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CLEARWATER — Countryside has been Pinellas County’s most dominant boys track program for most of this decade with five straight conference team titles.
But a six-peat at the Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet was in peril, at least at the start of the season. Countryside graduated 18 seniors, including the bulk of its distance runners who helped the Cougars stay on top. There also were other strong teams to battle, including Gibbs, Lakewood and St. Petersburg, each loaded with sprinters and jumpers.
Despite those obstacles, the Cougars were able to win — again.
Countryside worked its numbers to perfection Thursday, scoring 137 to beat out the Spartans for the title.
“We knew we were going to have a challenge this year,” Cougars coach Eileen Givens said. “We were behind at times, but the guys came through at the right time.”
Ricy Brown was a point-scoring machine for Countryside, finishing first in the 800 and long jump and second in the triple jump and 3,200. Teammate Derek Messmore also did well, taking first in the 400 and running anchor leg on the winning 4x400 and 4x800 relay teams.
Still, the Cougars trailed Lakewood 81-76 after 11 events. Countryside was able to move ahead by two points going into the 3,200.
But Givens knew she had points in the pole vault, an event in which the Spartans did not have any participants. The Cougars picked up nine with a runnerup and eighth-place finish and were able to hold on in the final two events.
“We were able to take advantage of some injuries and some guys not doing as well on other teams,” Givens said. “And we were able to get a lot out of the guys we had in each event.”
Official times for the meet were not available at press time.
The Spartans’ big upset came in the 300 hurdles where Dennis Pugh nudged past Countryside’s Wylan Burnitt for the win.
Seminole’s Chase Sutton won the 1,600 and 3,200.
On the girls side, Lakewood edged Osceola 103-101. The Spartans won despite not having their top athlete, Kala Funderburk, for most of the meet. After running the opening leg on Lakewood’s 4x800 relay team that finished second, Funderburk was treated for dehydration and did not return.
Sharell Keys came up big for the Spartans with wins in the 100 and 200.
Osceola’s Alexis Irwin won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and Boca Ciega’s Chaise Cook-Martin won the 100 and 300 hurdles and the triple jump.