It is an exciting time in cross country with the return of several female runners who have tons of ability and have risen to prominence in Pinellas County. The lead pack includes veterans Sara Allen of Boca Ciega, Kailand Cosgrove of Tarpon Springs, Katelyn Homme of Seminole and Katherine McMeekin of East Lake, among others. Here is the breakdown for the county:
Class 4A, District 8
Teams: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Countryside, Durant, East Bay, East Lake, Gaither, Largo, Mitchell, Palm Harbor U., Pinellas Park, Plant City, Riverview, St. Petersburg, Sarasota Riverview, Sickles
Girls outlook: The Hurricanes are not as deep as the teams that won conference titles in 2004-05, but they should still rank among the top five in the county. The Eagles will be a threat with the return of Katherine McMeekin.
Class 3A, District 5
Teams: Boca Ciega, Bradenton Bayshore, Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton Manatee, Bradenton Southeast, Clearwater, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Lakewood, Northeast, Osceola, Palmetto, Seminole, Tarpon Springs
Outlook: The strongest district in the county with three teams — Boca Ciega, Northeast and Seminole. The Pirates were third at conference last season and return two of their top runners, Sara Allen and Allison Corder. The Vikings, defending conference runnersup, have the most depth with all seven runners back. The Warhawks have the tradition with back-to-back conference titles and one of the county's top runners in Katelyn Homme. But their numbers could take a hit with some runners deciding not to come out this season. The Spongers have Kailand Cosgrove, the defending conference champion. Madilyn Stills is the Tornadoes' top returner.
Class 2A, District 5
Teams: Academy of the Holy Names, Avon Park, Bartow, Clearwater Central Catholic, Davenport Ridge, Frostproof, Haines City, Jesuit, Lake Wales, Mulberry, Newsome, Robinson, St. Petersburg Catholic, Sebring, Tampa Catholic, Wauchula Hardee
Girls outlook: The Marauders return every runner from last year's team that advanced to regions. Their top runner is Domenica Owens, the sophomore who qualified for state last season. The Barons still are trying to build up their numbers. The biggest challenge will come from Academy of the Holy Names and Newsome.
Class A, District 5
Teams: Admiral Farragut, Avon Park, Bayshore Chr., Berkeley Prep, Calvary Chr., Canterbury, Indian Rocks Chr., Keswick Chr., Lakeland Chr., Lakeland McKeel, Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic, Lake Wales Vanguard, Northside Chr., Shorecrest, Tampa Baptist, Tampa Prep, Walker Junior Memorial, Winter Haven All Saints'
Outlook: The Crusaders are one of the youngest teams with nearly every runner in seventh or eighth grade. Still, they placed sixth at state last season. The Chargers, led by the Evans twins, Sarah and Lindsey, are trying to get into the top 10 at state after finishing 11th last season.
For the fans
Admission: Most schools do not charge for meets.
Regular season: Schools can run in a maximum of 13 meets, starting Monday until Nov. 1.
Playoffs: District meets are Oct. 29-Nov. 3, region meets Nov. 13-15, and the state meet is Nov. 22 at Dade City's Little Everglades Ranch.
Format: Top six teams and top 15 individual place winners advance to region meets. Same applies from region to state.
Classifications: Schools are divided by enrollment into four, ranging from the largest (Class 4A) to the smallest (Class A).
Bob Putnam, Times staff writer
Runners to watch
Sara Allen, Boca Ciega, Sr.: Finished third at conference, placed in the top 10 at districts and qualified for state last season.
Kailand Cosgrove, Tarpon Springs, Sr.: Last season, Cosgrove beat McMeekin and Homme for the conference title with a personal-best time of 18 minutes, 44 seconds.
Katelynn Greenleaf, Northside Christian, Fr.: Sixth at the state cross country meet, then took fifth in the 3,200 meters at the state track last season.
Katelyn Homme, Seminole, Jr.: Leader of the Warhawks, Homme won district and region titles and finished fourth at state last season.
Katherine McMeekin, East Lake, Sr.: Times all-county runner of the year last season, McMeekin consistently beat the county's top in the regular season and had top-two finishes at districts and regionals.
Hannah Palm, Keswick Christian, eighth grade: Finished in the top three at most small-school meets and was in top 20 at state.
Elyse Snyder, Northeast, Jr.: Top runner on a Vikings team that returns everyone.