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Are Palm Harbor University’s girls really sneaking up on the cross country consciousness as they begin their quest to repeat as champion at the Cougar Invitational?
Despite accolades for Brianna Paczynski and Sarah Raymond, the Hurricanes never generated much of a buzz last season. They lacked big names such as former St. Petersburg standout Alex Eaton, last year’s Cougar Invitational individual champion now at Shorecrest. And PHU did not have the historical heft of a traditional power such as Seminole.
For much of last season, PHU flew under the radar. That is no longer the case. Thanks to the return of Paczynski and Raymond and a penchant for pulling out close races, the Hurricanes have forced themselves into the cross country spotlight.
PHU, which edged the Green Devils 63-64 for the title last season, has a good shot at defending its team title at the Cougar Invitational. After all, the Hurricanes won without Raymond, who was at a soccer match. And St. Petersburg no longer has Eaton at the top of its lineup. Other teams that could contend are Northeast and Seminole.
On the boys side, there is a logjam at the top with the defending champion Warhawks trying to hold off St. Petersburg and Osceola. Seminole, which lost most of its top runners from last season, fared well two weeks ago at the Green Devil Invitational.
The Green Devils have the most experience, led by Sam Chandler, who has the top time this season (16 minutes, 52 seconds). The Warriors have turned some heads by finishing second at the Newsome Invitational two weeks ago and winning the Pirate Invitational last week.
Osceola became a contender thanks to the performance of freshman Hunter McCann, who won the individual title at the Pirate Invitational.
When/where: Wednesday, John Chesnut Park
The junior varsity boys and girls race before the varsity runners. The varsity girls are at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys at 6. This meet is for all 16 public school teams in the county.