SPRING HILL — Travis Nichols of host Land O'Lakes won a late-race sprint against Plant's Jack Guyton to claim the boys title at the 17th annual Gator Invitational cross country meet Saturday morning at Crews Lake Park.
Nichols finished in 16 minutes, 5 seconds to beat Guyton by two seconds. Nichols' senior teammates Tyler Stahl (16:19) and Jake Poore (16:30) followed him across in third and fourth place, respectively, as the Gators claimed third (101 points) as a team behind Lakeland's McKeel Academy (68) and Estero (92).
Nichols was in sixth approaching the end of the first mile in a tight lead pack.
"We all just kept together until we were off the bike trail," Nichols said. "Then at about 1 1/4 miles, Tyler (Stahl) and I took off and dropped all but two (other runners)."
Guyton and Poore stayed with Nichols and Stahl for the next mile, but then it evolved into Guyton chasing Nichols.
"With about 600 yards to go it was an all-out sprint," Nichols said. "I thought (Guyton) was on my butt, but I looked over my shoulder and I saw he wasn't there and I thought, 'Thank God.' "
Guyton was just three seconds off his personal best running the course at Crews Lake Park for the first time.
"I was looking for the Land O'Lakes pack, I knew they would be finishing in the top one or two," Guyton said. "I stuck on them and then with 400 yards to go, I passed that third guy and just stuck on the first guy and kicked it out the last 100."
The girls race was dominated by a powerful Estero team (31 points) from the Fort Myers area, led by race winner Araceli Leon (18:50), but Gulf senior Kari Grippo broke through for third in a season-best 19:06, right behind Ocala Vanguard's Audrey Carpenter (19:04).
"The first mile was hard," Grippo said. "I heard someone yell 5:55 and I was afraid I'd come out too fast, but then at 2 miles they said 12 minutes and I just tried to hold on. I looked around and said to (Carpenter), 'Did we just break their (Estero's) top three?' "
Vanguard was second (79) and Gulf was fifth (204).
The bright spot for Pinellas County was Osceola senior Kaley Eisenbrei, who battled through a foot injury to take 16th in 20:36. It was just her second meet back from a sprained ligaments and a stress fracture in her foot. The Osceola girls team finished fourth (186).