BROOKSVILLE — The race has been run 32 times under two names. But this sixth running of the Zak Lukas Invitational (once known as the Red Mule) on Saturday featured something that the past 31 events had not — the closest team finish in the history of the boys' event.
Wharton (92 points) finished just one point ahead of Wiregrass Ranch and Land O'Lakes. The Bulls took second overall thanks to a tiebreaking finish from their sixth runner, Ian Cassette (18 minutes, 16 seconds).
Land O'Lakes was buoyed by the individual victory of state finalist Felix Soto. Soto, a senior, beat the field by more than 40 seconds with a time of 16:01. Always the perfectionist, the Gators standout wasn't satisfied.
"There was a lot of waiting right before the race started," Soto said. "I really wanted to get somewhere in the mid-15's in this race, but there's a long way to go."
Wiregrass Ranch's finish was bolstered by having all five scoring runners in the top 30, including sophomore Ryan Pulsifer, who finished third overall (16:55).
The girls' race wasn't as close as Wharton took the team title with 41 points. Ocala Vanguard was second overall with 76 points thanks to an individual title from senior Tori Lawson (19:43). Wiregrass Ranch (100 points) was the top North Suncoast team (third).
Ariel Grey, the defending District 2A-3 champion, took third for the Bulls in 20:08. Last season, Grey set her personal-best time on the same Hernando course at 20:53. She was pleased with her run, but she has bigger goals.
"I don't know if this is the most important race (during the regular season), but I really like this course," Grey said. "I really just want to get down into the 19's consistently before districts."
Pasco's LeeAnn Eble, who had won this event the only two times she has raced it (2005 and 2007), finished 13th (21:02). Of the North Suncoast runners in the field, she was fifth.