ST. PETERSBURG — Aware that success can be fleeting, Osceola's boys runners have scurried to capitalize on last year's cross country windfall, which included first-time conference and district titles, as well as the program's first trip to state.
Many thought the Warriors would shuffle through some growing pains after graduating three and fielding a lineup that includes two sophomores and two freshmen among the top six.
But the infusion of youth has rejuvenated Osceola, which started the season Wednesday by capturing the team title at the Green Devil Invitational. Better still, the Warriors did it in convincing fashion, placing three in the top eight to score 40 points, 24 more than Northeast and Seminole.
"It's the first meet, but it's a good start," Osceola coach Peter Eagleson said. "The last two classes of runners that we've had here have given us a boost."
By picking up where they left off a year ago, the Warriors have evolved from darling to juggernaut and are already turning the improbable into the conventional.
The catalyst for Osceola's continued success is Hunter McCann, a sophomore who was the Warriors' highest place-winner Wednesday, finishing second in 16:53. He was beaten by St. Petersburg's Semmes Bruce, who conquered a strong group of front-runners, as well as heavy rain in the backstretch, to win in 16:41.
"I had the lead through the first 2 miles," McCann said. "Then it was back and forth after that. (Bruce) outkicked at the end. But I know I have a lot more left in me."
Osceola's AJ Jimenez was third (16:56), followed by Seminole's Lorenzo Long (16:57) and St. Petersburg's Elliot Traxler (17:04).
"The rain didn't really hurt any of us," Jimenez said. "It's the best feeling to run in those type of conditions. For us, we have a real positive outlook and we all think we can do well as a team."
Seminole and Northeast return the bulk of their runners from last year and are expected to contend for team titles. They each finished Wednesday's meet with 64 points. The Vikings won the tiebreaker because their No. 6 runner placed higher.
In the girls race, Northeast's Caroline Condon won her second straight meet in 20:25, beating Osceola's Kaley Eisenbrei (20:28).
Seminole's Olivia Suski, who was third in 20:31, led a strong contingent of Warhawks at the finish line, including Eliza Long (sixth in 21:47) and Miranda Gale (seventh in 21:50). That helped Seminole win the team title with 39 points, seven ahead of Osceola.
St. Petersburg's Megan Fitzgerald was fourth (20:47) and Northeast's Hayley Brahm was fifth (21:34).