HOLIDAY — Saturday morning's fifth annual Anclote Invitational cross country meet was held a few weeks earlier than it is usually scheduled, but the times were solid, even in the blazing September heat.
Mitchell's Emily Kerns, who has improved every season since bursting onto the scene as a freshman three years ago, scored her first career victory in the girls' race, finishing in 21 minutes, 8 seconds.
Kerns topped two of the area's best distance runners in Gulf's Kari Grippo (second place, 21:40), a former state placer, and Palm Harbor University's Sarah Raymond (third, 21:51). Kerns wasn't the only Mustang to shine at Anclote. Jessica Boykin, a junior, had her first top-10 finish, crossing ninth (22:56) as Mitchell finished fifth as a team.
Grippo, hindered by chronic leg injuries since her seventh-place finish at state two years ago, was pleased with her performance.
"I worked really hard this summer and put a lot of mileage in in an effort to come back from my injury," she said. "I haven't been running the times I would like to run (yet), but I think I can improve."
Raymond led the Hurricanes to the girls' team title with 58 points, well ahead of Boca Ciega (93). Jenna Thompson (22:56) also finished in the top 10 for Palm Harbor University, while Brianna Paczynski (23:11) took 12th. Six Hurricanes were in the top 20.
Wiregrass Ranch, one of the stronger girls programs on the North Suncoast, was without its top five runners. Bulls coach Don Howard chose to rest state qualifiers Elise Cedre, Madison Conway, Addie Cornwell, and standouts Kerry Reilly and Savannah Goode. But led by sophomore Rachel Baber, the Bulls were 10th.
Osceola claimed the boys' title with 57 points, easily defeating runnerup Wiregrass Ranch (105). The Warriors' Hunter McCann (18:05) was the race winner and teammate Abimael Jimenez (18:16) was third.
Despite not having a runner in the top 10, the Bulls were able to shine because of consistency and depth, as Christian Suriel (18:51) and Keval Patel (18:57) crossed in 13th and 15th, respectively. None of the Bulls' top-five runners finished outside of the top 32, and none of the qualifying seven varsity runners finished lower than 38th.
Mitchell's Troy Shea (18:18) has showed vast improvement over the past year; his fourth-place finish was a career best.
Gulf placed two runners in the top 10: James Raymond (sixth, (18:24) and Wesley Best (ninth, 18:46).