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District cross country: Gulf boys, Nature Coast girls hold off top-rate foes

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Fri. October 25, 2013 | Derek J. LaRiviere

BROOKSVILLE — District reassignments brought about a rare situation in the Class 2A, District 7 championship meet Friday.

With programs coming from all different areas last season, there were three defending district champions in the girls competition (Gulf, Nature Coast, and Crystal River) and two returning team champions in the boys race (Nature Coast and Gulf).

It was Gulf (51 points) that pushed past the difficult field in the boys standings, edging runnerup Nature Coast (57). The Sharks’ victory marked a third consecutive district trophy.

Nature Coast’s James Harkless (17:02) gave Crystal River’s Brandon Harris (17:01) a run for the individual title as the two were neck and neck down the stretch. With 10 meters remaining, Harkless held the lead over Harris, who finished second at district last season and third as a sophomore, but in a full-out sprint the Pirate senior edged the Shark senior.

“We’ve been pushing each other all season,” Harkless said. “He just wanted it so much today.”

The Buccaneers were led by third- and fourth-place finishes from standouts Wesley Best (17:21) and James Raymond (17:25).

The girls title was captured by Nature Coast (29), narrowly defeating runnerup Gulf (37), as the Sharks had all five of their qualifying runners in the top 10. Nature Coast has won three straight crowns.

Gulf’s Kari Grippo (19:31) did her best to push the Buccaneers. She has never lost a district race, sweeping individual crowns in her sophomore, junior and now senior campaign. After struggling with injuries the past couple of seasons, Grippo is in good health as she approaches the biggest races in her career.

“I wake up in the morning excited about running at region and state,” Grippo said. “Last year, all the injuries really took all the fun out of racing. I’m so happy to be back in this position.”

The victory for Nature Coast knocked Crystal River off a dominant four-year run.

The five standout Sharks included Alyssa DeLigio (second, 21:21), Alexa Lacy (third, 21:27), Brianna Horn (seventh, 22:08), Kaylee Arvay (eighth, 22:38) and Mary Thomson (ninth, 22:50).

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