LITHIA — Running cross country is nothing new to Michael Babinec. But the Riverview junior also can claim some experience with cross-country driving.
Babinec, first at Tuesday night’s East Hillsborough Invitational (17:01) on Newsome’s campus, drove to a distance-running camp at the University of Wisconsin in July. He and his father packed up their Honda Fit and made the three-day trek together.
His mother met the two after flying to Madison, Wis., and the whole family made the 1,300-plus-mile drive back home.
“I got a lot of great input there and ran against some really good runners,” said Babinec, the top east Hillsborough finisher (17:09) at last season’s county meet. “It definitely helped me out.”
In addition to the camp, Babinec benefited from the tutelage of private coach Steve Dunn over the summer. Dunn, owner of Hit the Trails running and outdoor store in Lithia, helped push Babinec to become possibly one of the best runners in the county.
“I just have such high hopes for him for this season and for next season,” Riverview coach Shanna Brown said. “From when I first got him to now, he’s come a very, very long way. He’s really grown into himself and matured.”
Barefoot in the park: The standing water and soggy stretches at last week’s FACA Cross Country Classic at Ed Radice Park claimed several pieces of footwear among its casualties.
Plant’s boys (seventh) and girls (third) posted the best team finishes in the elite races, the highlight events of a six-race meet that attracted more than 1,000 prep runners.
Plant boys coach Mike Boza, a race organizer, called the conditions “the worst I’ve ever seen there.” Wharton senior Abby Ritter, the Times’ 2009 county runner of the year, lost a shoe on the course but finished, albeit well off the leaders. So did Plant’s Kyler Long, who trudged his way to an 89th-place finish in the boys elite race.
“I anticipated that and I actually had taped their shoes on; I usually do that when we have a muddy course,” Wharton coach Wes Newton said. “And (Ritter) had it taped and she still lost one.”
McCall meet set: About 20 teams are slated to compete in the second Ryan McCall Invitational, to be held Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Strawberry Crest. A table again will be set up for those wishing to donate to a scholarship fund established in the memory of McCall, a University of Tampa runner shot to death near the UT campus in the summer of 2009.
Odds and ends: Plant, Jesuit, Berkeley Prep, Holy Names, Robinson and Sickles are among those scheduled to run in Tuesday’s West Hillsborough Invitational at Al Lopez Park. Race time is 6:30 p.m. …King, Seffner Christian and Tampa Prep are among those running in today’s Mitchell Invitational at New Port Richey’s Starkey Park. Race time is 8 a.m. King’s varsity runners bypassed Tuesday’s Central Hillsborough Invitational — held on their own campus — to be fresh for this race.
Boys top five
1. Max del Monte, Chamberlain: Ran a respectable time (16:10.94) on a swampy course at FACA Classic
2. Jake Covington, Chamberlain: Placed 11th in Boys Elite race (16:41.22) at FACA Classic
3. Bo Nalsen, Plant: Had a rough day on a rough course at FACA meet, and still eclipsed 17 minutes
4. Travis Christenberry, Plant: His FACA effort (17:02.74) was only two seconds behind Nalsen’s.
5. Michael Babinec, Riverview: Winner of East Hillsborough Invitational (17:01) is a name to keep in mind
Girls top five
1. Julia Rodriguez, Plant: Top county finisher (19:58.68) at FACA Classic on waterlogged Ed Radice course
2. Katherine Ralston, Plant: Placed 11th in girls elite race (20:06.75) at FACA meet
3. Colleen Doherty, Holy Names: Eighth-grader emerging as Jaguars’ clear No. 1 runner
4. Caroline Gibson, Plant: Among the favorites at Tuesday’s West Hillsborough Invitational
5. Danielle Kissell, Plant: A top-25 finisher in girls elite race (20:31.09) at FACA
Adam Berry and Joey Knight, Times staff writers