LUTZ -- The core exercises, weightlifting and extra attention to nutrition haven't made Grace VanDeGrift bigger or brawnier in a literal sense, but figuratively, it's another matter.
The slender Durant senior is the clear heavyweight of local girls cross country.
On a humid afternoon when temperatures reached a record-high of 91 degrees, VanDeGrift broke out early and never relented to win the Hillsborough County championships at Lake Park. Her time of 18:58.37 -- the third consecutive race in which she has broken 19 minutes -- topped runnerup Danielle Kissell of Plant by 37 seconds.
"I know that when you start you have to get out fast," VanDeGrift said of the starting point, a sprawling stretch of grass that funnels into a path of white shell rock. "I was kind of on the inside and if I didn't get out fast enough I would be like, boxed in...so I had to get out fast."
In a boys race equally devoid of suspense, Chamberlain junior Max del Monte continued his breakout season with a winning time of 16:13.66. Berkeley Prep senior Michael Rosenbach was the runnerup (16:22.66), edging Chiefs senior Jake Covington by a couple of seconds.
Plant swept the team titles, with the Panthers girls -- a darkhorse contender for the Class 4A state crown -- putting four runners in the top 10. Plant has had no fewer than three girls post the team's best finish in a race this season.
"With this team, I never know who the No. 1 girl's going to be," coach Roy Harrison said. "It switches all the time, which sometimes is a good thing, but that means somebody's having a bad race. A couple of them, I never know what they're going to do."