DADE CITY — Teams across the state sniff out the dirt road that leads to this pristine course in a quest to test their mettle.
They lace their shoes, take deep breathes and their hearts beat faster.
Beside them are dozens of anxious runners, the best that Florida has to offer. Before them stands the Green Monster, a humbling hill that defines Little Everglades Ranch as it devours the most fit athletes every autumn.
The common question at Saturday's Prestate Classic: Just where does each runner stand a month away from returning here for the state meet?
Seminole found both a boy and a girl runner capable of pushing the state's elite.
Warhawks junior Chase Sutton won the large schools boys race with a personal record of 16 minutes, 15.82 seconds. He topped last year's 36th-place finish in the Class 3A state meet on the same course with a slightly different layout, on which he posted a 16:50.
The Warhawks finished 13th, aided by a 10th-place finish from Jacob Hudak (16:54.40).
For the Seminole girls, senior Katie Homme finished third in the large schools race in 19:45.13. She was 72nd in last year's state meet in 20:28.
Seminole's girls finished ninth overall, getting solid performances from Danielle Frain, who was 13th (20:42.51), and Cailynn Madsen (30th; 21:47.39).
Northside Christian finished fifth in the small schools girls race, paced by sophomore Katelyn Greenleaf. The St. Petersburg Times' 2008 Pinellas County Runner of the Year took fifth (19:14.09). Last year, she was seventh at state with a personal record of 18:45. Victoria Goodwin was 15th (20:13.90)
"I was trying to get a (personal record) because this is the first race I've been pushed by the people in front of me," Greenleaf said of this season. "… I was trying to get under 19 minutes, but I'm happy with my time."
In the same race, Keswick Christian finished sixth, led by Hannah Palm (14th; 20:12.05) and Stephanie Kistemaker (29th; 21:00.69). Canterbury was 15th and led by Alex Eaton in 13th (20:11.85).
Other girls finishes of note included St. Petersburg's Savannah Dearden, who was 15th in the large schools race (20:46.56).
For the boys, Countryside was hoping to put up a good battle in the elite race and ended the day 21st overall. The Cougars already were battling without their No. 2 runner, and senior Zach Christenson was recovering from the flu, which continues to hamper many bay area sports programs. Christenson had the Cougars' best finish, 65th in 16:48.93.
"I wanted to go under 16 today," Christenson said. "This is not what I wanted."
Other boys finishes of note included Northeast, which was 19th in the large schools boys race and led by Josh Phillippi (18th; 17:06.42). St. Petersburg finished 22nd.
Northside Christian was 14th in the small schools boys race.