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HOLIDAY -- Overcast skies and crisp air -- blissful weather by runners' standards -- served as the meteorological setting for Thursday afternoon's Class 2A, District 9 meet.
Then the race commenced, and grins quickly segued into grimaces.
Facing a daunting course of uneven grassy stretches and sharp, sandy turns in woods, Academy of the Holy Names junior Claire Snyder and Jesuit junior Tim O'Loughlin rose to the challenge -- albeit grudgingly.
"I hate it," Snyder said moments after winning the girls race in 20 minutes, 17 seconds.
"Oh man. Out in the woods, there's so much sand," added O'Loughlin, the boys winner (17:16). "And when you try to make those sharp turns, you just keep on slipping in the sand and it really slows you down."
At least Snyder and O'Loughlin -- and their teams -- know what they're in for next weekend. The makeshift course behind Anclote High also will serve as site of the Region 3 meet. The top three teams and top 13 individuals from Thursday's meet qualified.
Snyder, who won her second consecutive Hillsborough County title two weeks ago, essentially led wire to wire. O'Loughlin began slightly behind Middleton freshman Daniel Dean, who typically breaks out fast, before overtaking him the first mile. Dean placed fourth.
"I tried to stay behind him," said O'Loughlin, whose squad put five runners in the top 14 to coast to the team title. "But at the beginning I noticed that...either he wasn't feeling well or he just hadn't run on this course before because he was running pretty slow."
Berkeley Prep's girls (pictured) successfully stayed in a pack to claim their first team crown in more than a half-decade. The top five Buccaneers runners placed in the top nine led by Georgette Price and Gillian Cline, fourth and fifth, respectively.
Colleen Doherty's day, by contrast, didn't transpire as successfully.
The reigning district champion and state medalist from Holy Names, who hadn't run in roughly two months due to a stress fracture in her lower leg, finished 10th and appeared in noticeable pain at the finish line.
Because she ran only once during the regular season, Doherty had to receive a hardship waiver from the FHSAA to compete in Thursday's race. Her status for the region meet is uncertain. "It's a little bit of a question right now," coach Ray Rodriguez said.
The North Suncoast qualified no teams -- and only three individuals -- for regionals. Running on his home course, Anclote 6-foot-6 senior Spencer Guerette finished 22 seconds behind O'Loughlin to place second.
"I didn't push the last mile hard enough and it bit me in the butt," Guerette said. "It kind of makes me a little more fired up for next week."
Wesley Chapel senior Alyssa Turner (13th in girls) and Fivay junior Kenneth Walker (ninth in boys) were the North Suncoast's only other qualifiers.
Class 2A, District 9
Boys Team Results: Jesuit 30, Berkeley Prep 49, Robinson 72, Anclote 105, Fivay 133, Wesley Chapel 166
Boys Individuals (top 13): Tim O'Loughlin, Jesuit 17:16; Spencer Guerette, Anclote 17:38; Max Boreland, Berkeley Prep 17:48; Daniel Dean, Middleton 17:56; Hunter Revord, Jesuit 17:57; Danny Alvarez, Jesuit 18:09; Greg Longbottom, Berkeley Prep 18:09; Phillip Robbins, Jesuit 18:10; Kenneth Walker, Fivay 18:14; Fredrick Stanford, Robinson 18:18; Jack Rogers, Robinson 18:23; John Hill, Berkeley Prep 18:24; Vasilis Vasiloudes, Berkeley Prep 18:25
Girls Team Results: Berkeley Prep 33, Robinson 40, Academy of the Holy Names 53, Wesley Chapel 114, Anclote 136, Tampa Catholic 172
Girls Individuals (top 13): Claire Snyder, AHN 20:17; Julia Deyoung, Robinson 21:14; Maddy Hull, Robinson 21:25; Georgette Price, Berkeley Prep 21:48; Gillian Cline, Berkeley Prep 21:50; Madison Scanlan, Robinson 22:15; Hilleary Gramling, Berkeley Prep 22:23; Abby Walters, Berkeley Prep 22:26; Emma Righter, Berkeley Prep 22:31; Colleen Doherty, AHN 22:40; Natalie Hahn, AHN 22:45; Arielle Ellis, Robinson 22:49; Alyssa Turner, Wesley Chapel 22:52