TAMPA -- She has run a few paces behind adulation all year, silently trying to build steam after a rough start. When not under the weather, Wharton senior Abby Ritter has been under the radar.
Which, in her eyes, isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"I feel like I’ve been running okay," the reigning Times female runner of the year for Hillsborough County said. "But I definitely have more to show than I have."
Two weeks before the starting guns sound on district competition, Ritter's 2010 times haven't approached the area's best. Of the plausible explanations, lack of training isn't among them.
To the contrary, coach Wes Newton says, Ritter is working harder than ever this fall and appeared more prepared to post faster times. But some bad fortune, not to mention the fact the overall local competition may be better than ever, has kept Ritter from exploding.
In the season's first race, the FACA Classic at Ed Radice Park on a sauna-like September evening, Ritter lost a shoe on the swamp-like course and never recovered. An ensuing "bad cold" set her back a couple of weeks.
Combine that with the fact the Wildcats are racing less -- and training more -- in general this fall, and the top county finisher at last season's state meet has been far less conspicuous.
"Like I keep telling her and the girls, I'm going to be standing at the finish line at the state meet," Newton said, "and hopefully I'll be able to say, 'Wow, that was fantastic. If you had told me a month ago we'd run like that, I wouldn't have believed it.'"
In an effort to realize Newton's scenario, Ritter is logging 35-40 miles a week. Endurance training features timed stretches of two to three kilometers, followed by a couple minutes' rest, followed by another kilometer or two.
The result has been the periodic glimmer of promise.
At the flrunners.com Invitational 11 in Titusville three weeks ago, Ritter -- running with her team in the Girls Invitational -- eclipsed 20 minutes. At last week's Pre-State Invitational at Dade City's Little Everglades Ranch (site of the state meet), she finished 15th (20:37) in the Girls Varsity event.
Had she run in the Elite Girls race, Ritter says, she might have been pushed to run even faster. Nonetheless, she said she completely supports Newton's decision for the 'Cats to run as a team. Besides, if history is any sign, Ritter's best racing might still lie ahead.
At last season's district, region and state meets, Ritter ran a faster time each race.
"I'm hoping the bread is in the oven, I'm just waiting for it to rise,” Newton said. "Though I have to admit, the times in the county so far...are absolutely amazing."
Doherty does it again: Academy of the Holy Names eighth-grader Colleen Doherty added more volume to her resounding rookie season Tuesday, winning Hillsborough County’s annual freshman-sophomore meet (20:01) at Al Lopez Park. Newsome sophomore Lars Benner won the boys race (16:45).
County meet set: The Hillsborough County Championships will be held next Thursday, Oct. 28, with Lutz’s Lake Park -- a demanding course of grass and shell-rock paths -- again serving as host site. The girls race commences at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys race 30 minutes later. Newsome’s Brianna Jackson is the reigning girls champion. Chamberlain’s Max del Monte, fourth last season, is the top returning boy.
Boys Top Five
1. Max del Monte, Chamberlain
Fifth in Elite Boys race at Pre-State Invitational (15:18.09)
2. Jake Covington, Chamberlain
21st in Elite Boys race (15:43.42) at Pre-State
3. Michael Rosenbach, Berkeley Prep
Bucs senior shattered his personal record with 25th-place finish (15:49.60) in Elite Boys race
4. Blake Lopez, Jesuit
His effort (15:56.75) at Pre-State nearly eclipsed his personal-best
5. Bo Nalsen, Plant
Essentially tied Lopez to the finish line Saturday
Girls Top Five
1. Grace VanDeGrift, Durant
On precious little sleep, ran area’s best time (18:34.55) at Pre-State Invitational
2. Colleen Doherty, Academy of the Holy Names
Won county Freshman/Sophomore meet three days after shining at Pre-State (18:47.77)
3. Caroline Gibson, Plant
Eclipsed 19 minutes at Pre-State Invitational to lead Panthers to fifth-place finish
4. Katherine Ralston, Plant
Panthers’ No. 2 finisher at Pre-State (19:11.56) appears to be peaking at perfect time
5. Sabrina Whiting, Seffner Christian
Multi-sport star nursing sore back, but should be a postseason force