DADE CITY — The North Suncoast’s top female runner bore black fingernails and a brilliant smile Saturday morning. Kelli Williams was a perspiring, brown-eyed blend of gothic and glee.
“I’ll never forget this day,” the Mitchell senior said. “It’s everything I’ve worked for.”
Minutes earlier, in the final cross country race of her prep career, Williams had found a fifth gear in the final mile on the rolling brown landscape of Little Everglades Ranch.
In 15th place at the 21/4-mile mark of the Class 3A meet, Williams overtook a handful of runners down the stretch to place ninth in 18 minutes, 44.62 seconds.
No other North Suncoast runner — male or female — placed higher Saturday, which began with chilly temperatures at dawn but had warmed up considerably when Williams ran around 9:45 a.m.
“I heard people yelling what place I was in, whether it was for me or the girl before me, I heard the places,” Williams said. “And I’ve practiced here; I knew what I had to do in order to pull it off. So I looked in front of me and there were like, three or four girls right there, so I said to myself, ‘You have a chance to if you want it.’ And I was like, ‘Of course I want it.’ ”
The performance highlighted an otherwise lackluster day for North Suncoast runners. Wiregrass Ranch’s boys and girls, both of whom won region team titles the week before, finished 10th and 13th, respectively, to lead all area teams. No Bulls runner placed in the top 25.
“We had a great season but it was a disappointing day,” said girls coach Don Howard, casting the blame on himself for what he called not adequately preparing his kids for the elite field.
“I told the girls to focus on your accomplishments this year and put today out of your mind.”
On the boys side, Wiregrass Ranch senior Josh Reilly’s 44th-place effort (16:44.35) was the area’s top individual finish. Pasco senior Anthony Plourde nearly equaled Reilly with a 35th-place effort in the 2A race (16:49.46) despite battling what coach Barry Grayling said was a lingering chest infection.
Springstead senior Mikayla Bogulski had Hernando County’s top girls finish, placing 78th in the 3A race (20:59.27). Nature Coast sophomore Cody Van Natter’s 74th-place effort in 3A (17:12.20) was two seconds faster than Hernando senior Jesse Balogh (17:14.79), who was 64th in 2A.