LUTZ — Several nights before the Hillsborough County cross country championship, Tampa Prep sophomore Claire Snyder couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t because she was excited — rather, it was due to an overactive case of nerves.
“Competition scares me,” she said. “I was so nervous coming into this race, I can’t even tell you. I didn’t sleep a couple nights. I hate competition, I’m not competitive whatsoever.”
Even without that killer instinct (or virtually any summer training), Snyder was able to hold off Plant’s Julia Rodriguez, the defending champion, and cross the finish line first with a time of 18:08. Rodriguez, one of six Panthers to finish in the top 10, came in second with a time of 18:17.
Snyder had run out in front of Rodriguez for the entire race, but Rodriguez made it close as they looped back into sight of the finish line. In case Snyder was unaware of the closeness between the two, a spectator’s shout of, “Catch her, Julia!” let her know.
“I thought she was going to win,” Snyder said. “In my head I was playing out that scenario, and it was not going to be pretty.”
“I feel like I should’ve kicked better,” Rodriguez said. “But I pushed myself so it was good.”
After the majority of the girls had crossed the finish line, the varsity boys took off toward the setting sun at the sound of the gun.
Chamberlain senior and defending champion Max del Monte was the first to reappear and won the race in 15:14. Plant’s Thomas Christenberry was right on his tail and finished second with a time of 15:16.
Del Monte, who said his training for this race didn’t go as planned since he caught the flu, relied on his competitors to push him forward.
“I have to give a nod to Christenberry and (third-place finisher) Michael Babinec (of Riverview); we worked hard together pretty much the entire race,” he said. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have run like that.”