SHADY HILLS — Two new individual champions took center stage at the 15th annual Gator Invitational on Saturday at Crews Lake Park.
Gulf's Kari Grippo (18 minutes, 9 seconds) dominated the girls race, winning by almost 20 seconds over her nearest competitor, Belleview's Anne-Marie Blaney. The feat was impressive considering there were 146 runners, six of them breaking the 20-minute barrier.
Grippo, a sophomore, pulled away from challenges by not only Blaney (18:28), but a local rival in Wiregrass Ranch's Nikita Shah (18:59), who finished third.
"I passed Nikita in the first 800 meters," Grippo said. "Once we got into the woods, I stopped hearing footsteps, so I think that's where it spread out."
The Buccaneers (137 points) finished third in the team standings behind Sarasota Riverview (63) and Wiregrass Ranch (81).
Riverview had three runners finish in the top 10, including Abigail Hagan (fourth), Kayla Miller (seventh) and Sarah Miller (eighth).
The boys race was won in a sprint finish by Anclote's Argishti Gazari over Baker's Alan Wise. Gazari (16:16) crossed the line four seconds faster than Wise, who was followed closely by Land O'Lakes' Travis Nichols (16:21).
Gazari, a Shark senior, had to overcome a late injury. He believes he fractured the second toe on his right foot at some point.
"I think I broke my toe coming down the last hill," Gazari said. "It feels great to win this race though. That's the important thing right now."
Anclote's Chris Sorrick (16:55) came in 10th to support his teammate, setting a personal best. Last season, Sorrick's best time was 18:35, a major difference from the runner that is now gracing the course for the Sharks. Both Sorrick and Gazari credited Anclote coach Alan Parmenter for their success.
"Our goal is to make our coach look like a genius," Sorrick said. "He's the best coach I've ever had in any sport, and the progress I've made is all because of him."
Wiregrass Ranch (69 points) won the team championship over Nature Coast (92) thanks to two runners placing in the top five, Ermias Bireda (fourth, 16:31) and Sam Hippely (fifth, 16:34). The Bulls' pack-running style also allowed them to have their other three scoring runners finish 19th (Tyler Mattera), 20th (David Hill) and 21st (Ben Hall).