DADE CITY — Fittingly, the local toast of the state cross country meet pulled out the bubbly Saturday. Popping the caps off sparkling cider, Plant’s girls and boys drenched themselves in the juice and euphoria.
“It never gets old,” girls coach Roy Harrison said.
About a half hour earlier, Harrison had watched his team break out the strong stuff — in the waning stretch of the Class 4A race.
Though not at their sharpest, the Panthers ran furiously on the final uphill straightaway to eke past Miami Ferguson by two points and capture their 10th team crown and second in a row.
Similarly, Panthers senior Travis Christenberry ran down a handful of foes in the final few hundred meters to place third individually in a personal-best 15:42.08 and lead the Panthers to a third-place team finish.
“I mean, this is my senior year,” Christenberry said. “I wanted to go out with something I’ve never done before, so I just went for it. I had nothing to lose. I’m really happy, even for the girls, too.”
The Panthers’ latest sparkling effort capped an equally astounding day for Hillsborough County on the rolling hillsides of Little Everglades Ranch.
Chamberlain senior Max del Monte capped his career with a runnerup finish in the 3A race, seniors Alex Main of Berkeley Prep and Brian Sharp of Robinson placed a respective second and third in the 2A boys race, and Riverview senior Michael Babinec placed eighth in 4A.
On the girls side, Academy of the Holy Names freshman Colleen Doherty placed fifth in the 2A race, while Tampa Prep sophomore Claire Snyder capped a breakthrough season with an eighth-place effort in Class A.
But this warm morning belonged to the Panthers.
Leading the way were third-place senior Danielle Kissel (18:41.66) and sixth-place junior Scarlett Fox (PR 18:47.24), who was medically cleared to run only a few weeks ago after blacking out at last season’s state track meet.
Junior Julia Rodriguez and senior Kara Halfaker came in at 24th and 25th, respectively. Close behind was three-sport freshman Erica Oosterhout, who overtook a runner each from Ferguson and third-place St. Thomas Aquinas in the last 200 meters to place 28th.
“We didn’t run a good team race today,” said Harrison, whose 10 championships ties him for most in Florida by a cross country coach in a single gender. “It’s just that Danielle and Scarlett ran unbelievable.”
del Monte (15:28.38) never was able to overcome the scorching initial pace of Miami Belen Jesuit’s Elliot Clemente (15:05.99), but overtook Palmetto Ridge’s Carlos Miranda at the bottom of the final stretch for the runnerup spot.
“I definitely pushed myself as hard as I could today, but at the same time, some days you’re the hammer and some days you’re the nail,” said del Monte, who paced himself with modest tempos early in the season to put himself at a peak level for the state meet.
“I think I was the nail today. …“(Clemente) had a mission and you know what, I did, too, but he came out on top today. I pretty much left everything on the line and I can’t ask for more than that.”
The Sharp-Main duel was the pair’s third in as many weeks, with Main prevailing for the third time. Main, around 10th place after the first third of the race, gradually picked off runners and overtook Sharp in the final 75 meters for a personal-best 16:00.69.
“I wasn’t sure if I could catch Brian actually,” said Main, who led his team to a third-place finish. “He kept picking it up, picking it up and I just had to mentally tell myself to stick on him.”