The moment that set the stage for what figures to be one of the most competitive girls cross country seasons in history began, appropriately enough, with the opening of a door.
A car door.
When former Northside Christian star Katelyn Greenleaf got in her car and drove to the University of Alabama, it gave everyone behind her a chance to be No. 1.
Greenleaf was the Times’ cross country runner of the year the past four seasons and never lost to a county opponent during her high school career. Now that she has left, a slew of runners are on the brink of prominence.
The runner with the best shot at rocketing to the top is Alex Eaton, who transferred from St. Petersburg to Shorecrest. The junior was overshadowed by Greenleaf and Osceola’s Alexis Irwin (another graduate) the past two seasons despite placing in the top two at conference and district meets. At last week’s Seffner Christian Invitational, Eaton sprinted to the lead and never looked back, winning in 19 minutes, 23.70 seconds — the best time in the county so far.
By joining the Chargers, Eaton also shifted the balance of power. Shorecrest has a solid lineup that includes Olivia Rovin, Savannah Broome and Kai Greenlees. It is enough to consider the Chargers the favorite at the private school level, especially after Northside Christian lost most of its top runners. Indian Rocks Christian also figures to be in the mix.
“A lot changes with Katelyn around,” Shorecrest coach Jeff Raab said. “We have a pretty solid lineup that I think has a chance to contend.”
As far as county public school girls, there is so much parity that as many as five teams have a shot at the title. The front-runners are Largo, Northeast, Palm Harbor University, St. Petersburg and Seminole.
The county boys also are dealing with a sense of loss. Seminole graduated six of its top eight runners, including Jacob Hudak, the Times’ boys runner of the year last season. Still, the Warhawks’ have the kind of depth other programs envy and were able to reload. At last week’s Green Devil Invitational, Seminole won the boys title, beating St. Petersburg 26-36. The Green Devils return six of their top seven runners and will challenge Seminole throughout the season.
Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic, Shorecrest and Indian Rocks Christian figure to be among the top private school boys teams.
Boys to watch
Declan Abernathy, St. Petersburg: Gives Green Devils depth at the top of their lineup and will help break up the pack of Seminole runners.
Matt Adan, Clearwater Central Catholic: Finished team-best 10th at Seffner Invitational.
Nima Beheshti, Admiral Farragut: Finished .20 of a second behind teammate Patrick McNamara at Seffner Invitational.
Semmes Bruce, St. Petersburg: Stayed right behind teammate Sam Chandler at the Green Devil Invitational, finishing second.
Sam Chandler, St. Petersburg: A second-team, all-county selection, won the Green Devil Invitational last week in 16:52.
Jacob Endrulat, Keswick Christian: The first-team, all-county selection is the top returning state place winner (24th at Class A meet).
Josh Luker, Seminole: One of many newcomers, Luker took third at the Green Devil Invitational, highest among Warhawk runners.
Jared Hayduke, Seminole: Joins Marsh as only returning runners and helped Warhawks place fourth at 4A state meet last year.
Iain Marsh, Seminole: One of two returners from last year’s team, Marsh provides experience for state contending team.
Paul McKenna, Countryside: Often among the leaders last season, could surge ahead as county’s top public school runner.
Patrick McNamara, Admiral Farragut: Takes over as the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 runner with graduation of Blake Arnold.
Ross Porter, Shorecrest: Could be the county’s top private school runner, especially after placing second at the Seffner Invitational.
Trevor Quandt, Indian Rocks Christian: Transfer from Keswick has become Golden Eagles’ top runner this season.
Steve Rudderham, Northeast: Helped break up the pack of Seminole, St. Petersburg runners by taking ninth at Green Devil Invitational.
Sam Weller, Seminole: One of four Warhawks who finished Green Devil Invitational in less than 18 minutes.
Girls to watch
Hannah Brookover, Calvary Christian: Had breakout performance with third-place finish at Seffner Christian Invitational.
Caroline Condon, Northeast: Finished third at Green Devil Invitational and joins Amanda Spring to give Vikings solid 1-2 punch.
Alex Eaton, Shorecrest: Emerged as the runner to beat after winning Seffner Christian Invitational.
Bobbi LaBrant, Indian Rocks Christian: Golden Eagles’ No. 1 runner beat everyone except Katelyn Greenleaf last season.
Rachael Hayduke, Seminole: One of the leaders on a deep team finished in top five at conference last season.
Brianna Paczynski, Palm Harbor University: Has potential to place among top five at conference meet.
Hannah Palm, Keswick Christian: Veteran runner will stay with Eaton, Olivia Rovin and others in lead pack at private school meets.
Sarah Raymond, Palm Harbor University: Had the highest finish (27th) among county runners at last year’s Class 4A state meet.
Olivia Rovin, Shorecrest: Finished seventh at Seffner Invitational and will stay with Eaton at the front of most races.
Amanda Spring, Northeast: A top-10 finisher in district and region meets last year, was second at the Green Devil Invitational.
Alexis Stevens, Boca Ciega: Consistent top-10 performer at conference and district meets the past few seasons.
Olivia Suski, Seminole: Consistent performer had Warhawks’ top finish (fifth) at Green Devil Invitational.
Rachel Valentine, Canterbury: She grabbed the spotlight by winning the individual title at the Green Devil Invitational in 19:34
Erin Waterman, St. Petersburg: Rebounded from injuries to place fourth at Green Devil Invitational.
Jasmine Whitney, Seminole: A versatile runner, Whitney was a district champion in the 800 meters in track last season.
Sept. 12: Pirate Invitational (Walter Fuller)
Sept. 19: Cougar Invitational (John Chesnut Park)
Oct. 4: Viking Invitational (Crescent Lake Park)
Oct. 10: Eagle Lake Park Meet (Eagle Lake Park)
Oct. 24: PCAC meet (Taylor Park)
Oct. 29-Nov. 3: District meets
Nov. 8-10: Region meets
Nov. 17: State finals, Melbourne