For the fifth consecutive year, the cross country season culminates on a rolling piece of Pasco County countryside. Dade City's Little Everglades Ranch, previously host to a pretty swank steeplechase, again serves as the stage for the state meet. The final stretch is a bear: a grassy sprint of a few hundred yards on a mildly discernible incline. Will any locals be challenging at that juncture? It's a long shot. Then again, horses and dark horses alike can roam this pristine pasture. Here's a local outlook.
The cold facts
Where: Little Everglades Ranch, Dade City
Admission: $8 (children 6 and younger free)
Race schedule: A girls, 7:30 a.m.; 2A girls, 7:55; A boys, 8:20; 2A boys, 8:45; 3A girls, 9:05; 4A girls, 9:30; 3A boys, 9:55; 4A boys, 10:20
Awards: The top 10 finishers in each race earn all-state status, and the medals accompanying it.
The coolest fact
Berkeley Prep senior Tyler Greathouse will be making his sixth state meet appearance. For perspective, Tim Tebow was a junior on his varsity football team, George W. Bush had just been re-elected for a second presidential term, and the Lightning was fresh off winning the Stanley Cup when Greathouse competed in his first state meet. Greathouse, who won the Class 2A, District 5 title (in 15:58) and placed fourth at last week's Region 3 meet, was the Bucs' No. 2 finisher when they placed second as a team at the A meet in 2005.
Local boy to watch
Chamberlain senior Mark Parrish, third at last season's 3A meet, will compete in the 4A race. He has looked impressive in winning district and region titles this postseason, but will face a daunting field that includes Duke commitment Brian Atkinson of Melbourne and Miami Columbus' Armando Del Valle. Atkinson ran a course-record 15:15.77 at last week's Region 1 meet in Gainesville, and Del Valle edged Parrish on the Little Everglades course at a pre-state meet in October. "The good news is that Mark always saves his best for the state meet," Chiefs coach Bill Strack said.
Local girl to watch
While Sickles freshman Sarah Hartman continued to astound last week with a runnerup finish at the 3A, Region 2 race, she'll face a daunting field in Saturday's 3A race. For the best area female finish, we're giving the nod to Wharton junior Abby Ritter, who placed fourth at last week's 4A, Region 2 race (in a personal-best 19:12). If she allows the runners from 4A juggernaut Winter Park to push her as she did last week, Ritter could reach the medal stand.
Boys team to watch
Plant's boys shape up as a top-five finisher — or better — in the 4A race. The key could be senior Trenor Wilkins, who missed nearly the whole regular season with stress fractures in his shins but placed 17th at last week's Region 2 race. If Wilkins, junior Bo Nalsen (ninth at regionals) and the rest of the Panthers come to run, Plant could crack the top three.
Girls team to watch
Like Plant's boys, the girls are legitimate top-four contenders. Their average time at the Region 2 meet (20:01.40, on a true cross country course) was fourth best among the state's four regions. If there's a glaring concern for coach Roy Harrison's squad, it's youth. Plant's top three region placers were freshmen.