Plant coach Mike Boza hopes to treat some of the state's top cross country runners to a race down memory lane at tonight's Deja Vu Invitational at Ed Radice Park.
Instead of the 5K standard used in nearly every high school cross country race for nearly a decade, Boza, the meet director, will offer an old-school 3-mile course.
And it will take place under the lights, a salute to when Ed Radice first became the site of the state championships in the early 2000s.
Thanks to a new rule from the Florida High School Athletic Association, there will be a distinct difference that's totally 2011. For the first time, coaches will be able to enter up to 10 runners — instead of the traditional seven — in many of the regular-season meets. At the Deja Vu, which will draw some of the state's top boys and girls teams, Boza will allow up to 10 runners in the elite division and up to eight in the open division.
For the layman, it may not seem like a big deal, but cross country coaches are buzzing about the rule. The immediate impact will be greater competition within teams.
In the past, limiting a team to seven runners generally meant other members had to run in the junior varsity meet, even if they were juniors or seniors. Boza said now the runners in the back of the pack will have a more equitable chance to make the top seven.
"Before, they were told if you want to run varsity, you have to run a faster time," Boza explained. "But traditionally, they had to run a faster time in hotter conditions against slower runners in the JV division.
"Now they can run head-to-head against your other runners."
Boza added that coaches now will have a better opportunity to reward hard-working seniors or use entry into a varsity race as motivation.
However, some coaches worry about the change. In Pasco County, Mitchell coach Jeff Leavy will limit teams to seven runners at his Sept. 17 invitational in New Port Richey's Starkey Park. Levy said the course simply isn't large enough to accommodate a larger field, particularly because it narrows at the 400-meter mark.
While Leavy generally sees more kids in the varsity race as a positive, he also has concerns about the impact on team scores. The top five runners still count toward a team's score, but the added runners could push a lesser team's fifth runner farther down in the final standings.
"For the weaker teams, their scores could go up by 30 points because you could have 30 kids finishing ahead of the team's fifth man," said Leavy, who has coached in Illinois and Florida for more than 40 years. "I think it's going to make for some huge scores."
Steinbrenner coach Ladd Baldwin will serve as the meet director for the county championships at the end of next month. He said he hasn't decided what he will do, but with more than 30 public and private schools expected to compete, he conceded the field may be too large to go beyond the seven-runner limit at Lake Park.
Still, he appreciates the varied opportunities the new rule allows coaches. It adds more strategy to deciding who runs in the varsity race and gives coaches a better opportunity to truly determine who are the seven best runners.
That's an important distinction because for the district, regional and state cross country meets, teams again will be limited to seven runners.
Durant's VanDeGrift earns honor as Gator
The Southeastern Conference named Florida Gator and former Durant High runner Grace VanDeGrift one of the SEC Freshmen of the Week after she finished fourth at the Western Carolina Invitational in Cullowhee, N.C.
VanDeGrift checked in as the top freshman female finisher in North Carolina by clocking a 10:34.12 in the 2-mile race. With her top-five finish in the field, VanDeGrift became the first UF female freshman since 2008 to place in the top five overall in her season-opening race as a Gator.