LUTZ — Newsome freshman Brianna Jackson remembers her introduction to Florida humidity. It was her first training run — a mere seven-minute warmup — with her new teammates at a Lithia sports complex this past summer.
"I was like, 'Man, I'm really not conditioned for this,' " recalled Jackson, who moved from Illinois last winter. "It felt like I was running into a wall."
Several months later, Jackson's aversion to moisture and mugginess has dissipated. So have her running times.
On an overcast, late October evening that reeked of August, Jackson continued her splash onto the local scene with a one-second victory over Plant freshman Caroline Gibson in the Hillsborough County Championships at Lutz's Lake Park. Despite missing at least one turn on the course of grass and shell-sand paths, Jackson notched a personal-best time of 19 minutes, 37 seconds.
Despite that feeble first impression in the offseason, Wolves coach Orlando Greene saw Jackson's breakthrough coming.
"I saw the ability to handle workloads once she got comfortable with the weather," he said. "She was always willing to push the envelope. She was running with the top runners from the first day out. So right away, I turned to my assistant coach and was like, 'I think we've got something here.' "
Behind the 2-3 finish of Gibson and classmate Julia Rodriguez (19:43), Plant won the team title with 45 points — 49 fewer than runnerup Wharton. Six Panthers, none seniors, finished in the top 17.
On the boys side, Chamberlain senior Mark Parrish, the 2008 runnerup in this race, coasted to the individual title in 15:53. Robinson senior Bryan Garcia was second, 24 seconds behind.
Plant also captured the boys team title (77 points), thanks in part to the return of defending region champ Trenor Wilkins. Sidelined until Tuesday while recovering from stress fractures in his shins, Wilkins finished 11th (17:08) in his 2009 debut while helping pace teammate Travis Christenberry (13th, 17:12). Junior Bo Nalsen (seventh, 16:43) was the Panthers' top finisher.
"I feel good," said Wilkins, a senior bound for a foreign-exchange program in New Zealand in January. "I've probably only run like, 15 to 20 miles the past two weeks. I'm definitely happy with it, but my goal is to get to states, so this is just kind of a warmup for it."