SHADY HILLS — Saturday morning's 12th annual Gator Invitational ended up being a stage for programs outside the area instead of a platform for exceptional North Suncoast performances.
Orlando-Timber Creek took the team title on the boys' side, and individual crowns went to Estero, located just south of Fort Myers, and Lake Region, located just south of Winter Haven.
Timber Creek (86 points) took first place in the boys' standings, 35 points ahead of Estero, who finished with 121. Host school Land O'Lakes, led by Felix Soto's second-place overall finish, was the top North Suncoast team, in fifth with 185 points.
Soto, a senior, finished third in this event last year and was hoping to capture his first title at Crews Lake Park. He crossed the line just nine seconds behind overall champion Erick Montoya of Estero, who recorded a time of 16 minutes, 5 seconds. The Gators standout believed that early traffic cost him a shot at the victory.
"I got boxed in by the field from the start, and it cost me a lot of time," Soto said. "If I didn't spend so much energy getting back to the front, I really think I could have won this race."
The girls' team competition also wasn't close as Wharton showed its supremacy with 61 points. Lake Region took second overall with 138 thanks to an individual title from senior Sidney Devore (18:52). Land O'Lakes (197 points), just like its male counterpart, was the top North Suncoast finisher, in fifth place.
Jessica Furst, whose top time this season coming into the race was 20:25, took second for Wesley Chapel with a time of 20:02 as the top North Suncoast individual finisher. Furst is coming off a chest and sinus illness from last week and is just now regaining her strength. She was pleased with her run.
"I was hoping to break into the 19's this week, but I am happy with how I ran," she said. "I kept a pretty good pace for the whole race, and I felt like I pushed myself enough."