The 2011 cross county season in Pinellas County begins with uncertainty. Some runners graduated. Others transferred. The changes leave a few coaches scratching their heads, wondering how to fill the holes in their lineups. It could be a topsy-turvy year in which anything seems possible.
Keys to season
Northside Christian’s Katelyn Greenleaf will still be dominant: Greenleaf, a senior, has run away from the pack. She is the only county runner to finish in the top 10 at state the past three years. This season could be her best yet. The top runners in her classification, twins Kathryn and Erika Fluehr of Community School of Naples, graduated. Another runner who finished in the top five at state last year, Emily Edwards, transferred from Fort Myers Canterbury to Fort Myers and is no longer in Class A. Greenleaf is one of the top five returning runners in her class. Winning an elusive state title will be difficult given the amount of talent in her class. So Greenleaf is focused on her time. She increased her mileage this summer in hopes of running under 18 minutes. Greenleaf also is the leader of a team that is among the favorites to win district and team titles.
Transfers have reshaped rosters: It was hard to keep track of the movement among runners this offseason, especially at the private school level. Indian Rocks Christian lost Rachel Kistemaker, who transferred to Osceola. Northside Christian no longer has Alicia Konstantinovic, now at Largo. Canterbury will have to do without Sarah Green, who went to St. Petersburg. Katie McNees went from Keswick Christian to Shorecrest. Despite the losses, Northside Christian, Keswick Christian and Indian Rocks Christian should still be still strong thanks to the number of returning runners. The Mustangs still have Greenleaf and Victoria Goodwin. The Golden Eagles still have Tori Trador and Bobbi LaBrant, and Ellie and Hannah Palm are still with the Crusaders. But the addition of McNees will strengthen the Chargers, a young team led by Savannah Broome and Kai Greenlees.
The balance of power is shifting to South County: For years, the Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet was dominated by Largo, Palm Harbor University and Seminole. But that is starting to change with the emergence of Northeast and St. Petersburg. The Vikings won the conference title in 2008 and the Green Devils won last year. Both are favorites this season. Northeast returns its top five runners, including Amanda Spring, Aleksandra Corokalo and Courtney Condon. St. Petersburg is led by Alex Eaton, Erin Waterman and Caroline Krueger. The biggest challenge will likely come from Osceola and No. 1 runner Alexis Irwin, who has a chance to win her third straight individual conference title. Seminole also will be in the mix with the return of Rachel Hayduke.
Leader of the individual pack is up for grabs: Last season, Seminole’s Chase Sutton and Countryside’s Ricy Brown battled each other for the lead in nearly every major meet. Sutton had the better results and was named the Times’ county runner of the year for the second straight season. Both have graduated. Sutton’s former teammates Jacob Hudak, Keegan Flynn and Brian Mayuiers could vault to the top. And don’t count out Clearwater’s Cody Sanford, Northside Christian’s Mario Ojeda or Admiral Farragut’s Blake Arnold. The closest one to being a favorite is Hudak, the highest returning place winner in district and region meets in 4A last year.
Seminole is the team to beat: Though the Warhawks lost Sutton, they return nearly everyone else and their depth will overwhelm every public school team in the county. Dunedin made a nice run last season and returns Zach Maciolek but there is not enough to challenge Seminole for the conference title. Other teams bring back quality runners such as St. Petersburg and Sam Chandler, Largo and Tyler Lewis and Palm Harbor University and Luke Buschman. At the private school level, Northside Christian will have trouble defending its district and region titles due to the loss of some top runners. Joe Chapman and Kyle Riffe decided not to run this season for the Mustangs so they could concentrate on basketball. Northside will rely on Ojeda and Matthew Montanari. The team that could emerge is Shorecrest, which returns Justin Scoby and Luke Peterson.
County runners will have a hard time at state: The county does not return a runner who placed in the top 25 at state in his classification. The closest was Arnold, who was 28th in Class A last season. Most county teams are in Class 4A and A, which are both stacked with some of the toughest runners in the state.
For the fans
Regular season: Schools can run in a maximum of 13 meets, which started Monday until Oct. 29.
• Sept. 21 Cougar Invitational (John Chesnut Park)
• Sept. 28 Viking Invitational (Crecent Lake Park)
• Oct. 5 Pirate Invitational (Walter Fuller)
• Oct. 26 PCAC meet (Taylor Park)
• Oct. 31-Nov. 5 District meets
• Nov. 10-12 Region meets
• Nov. 19 State finals, Little Everglades Ranch, Dade City
Photo: Northside Christian's Victoria Goodwin