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LARGO — About a mile into Wednesday’s race, Largo’s Marina Levine and Palm Harbor University’s Brianna Paczynski were ahead of the field and side-by-side.
They hung on each other’s shoulder, each unable to take a commanding lead. Finally, Levine shook past her toughest rival, gaining a slight advantage, and maintaining it with a strong enough kick. But Levine felt she couldn’t relax, even with the lead.
“Brianna is always there with me in most races,” Levine said. “It’s always a good battle. Even after I took the lead, I kept thinking she was right behind me, and I kept looking back to see if she was there with every little noise.”
By the end, Levine had gained a sufficient enough lead to win the Eagle Lake Invitational in 19 minutes, 52 seconds. Levine’s time not only beat Paczynski’s by 38 seconds, but it also was five seconds off the school record.
Levine also helped the Packers defend their title, beating the Hurricanes 48-66. Largo had two other girls in the top 10 — Tiffany Kern (fifth, 21:11) and Alicia Konstantinovic (eighth, 21:29).
PHU was missing 10 girls who were at soccer tryouts, including its Nos. 2 and 5 runners. Sarah Swallow, who was sixth in 21:15, was the other Hurricane girl in the top 10. Dixie Hollins’ Jessica Silk was third in 20:47 and Clearwater’s Erin Avers was fourth in 20:55.
In the boys race, Clearwater’s Stephen Sawayda knew he would not be running against some of his closest public school rivals, such as Countryside’s Paul McKenna and St. Petersburg’s Sam Chandler, whose teams were not at the meet.
Still, Sawayda preferred to sit back rather than jump out to the lead right away.
“I wanted to find the leader and draft off him,” Sawayda said.
That turned out to be Osceola’s Hunter McCann, who surged in front. About 500 yards after the first mile, Sawayda took control of the race and won in 16:53.
“I had a pretty comfortable lead by the backstretch,” Sawayda said. “My time is good for this point of the season. I tend to start slow and progress pretty fast by the end of the season.”
McCann was the runnerup in 17:08. It was his second strong performance after finishing 11th at the Disney Invitational last week.
McCann was followed by a strong contingent of Warrior runners at the finish line. Tom Grzesiakowski was third in 17:15, followed by Abimael Jimenez in fourth (17:28) and Reggie Cape fifth (17:39). By having four of the top five runners, Osceola won the team title with ease, beating PHU 23-74.
Team scores: Osceola 23, Palm Harbor University 74, East Lake 108, Lakewood 147, Dixie Hollins 153, Boca Ciega 178, Clearwater 184, Largo 185, Dunedin 274, Pinellas Park 408
Results: Sawayda (Clw) 16:53; McCann (Osc) 17:08; Grzesiakowski (Osc) 17:15; Jimenez (Osc) 17:28; Cape (Osc) 17:39; Shontz (PHU) 17:56; Novkhal (DH) 17:57; Fahey (PHU) 17:59; Hoge (Osc) 18:05; Persha (Lw) 18:06; Lumbreras (DH) 18:07; D. Sawayda (Clw) 18:15; Aimrick (Osc) 18:17; Brooke (EL) 18:38; Lewis (EL) 18:40
Team scores: Largo 48, Palm Harbor U. 66, Osceola 80, Boca Ciega 114, East Lake 153, Clearwater 153, Dixie Hollins 254, Pinellas Park 312, Tarpon Springs 320, Lakewood 443
Results: Levine (Lar) 19:52, Paczynski (PHU) 20:29; Silk (DH) 20:47; Avers (Clw) 20:55; Kern (Lar) 21:11, Swallow (PHU) 21:15; Abu-Rumman (Osc) 21:22; Konstantinovic (Lar) 21:29; Stevens (BC) 21:35; Siegel (EL) 21:39; Eisenbrel (Osc) 21:59; Martinez (Lar) 22:37; S. Siegel (EL) 22:39; Smith (PHU) 22:43; Lunsford (Osc) 22:56