SHADY HILLS — The 12th annual Gator Invitational ended up being a stage for programs outside the area, but the Wharton girls team stood out among a pack of state favorites on Saturday morning.
Wharton (61 points) overwhelmed the field for the girls' team title. Alyssa Franks (20 minutes, 15 seconds) and Erin Bailey (20:30) led the way for the Wildcats with sixth- and eighth-place finishes, respectively.
Franks admitted the team was focused on team scoring and was trying a new pacing technique. "We tried some new things today as far as team running," she said. "I know it's seen as an individual sport, but in races like this, I'd rather the team does well."
Lake Region's Sidney Devore won the overall title in 18:52, beating the rest of the 159-runner field by more than a minute.
Orlando-Timber Creek (86 points) won the boys team crown, easily beating Estero (121) and Chamberlain (130). The Chiefs were paced by the third-place finish of junior Mark Parrish (16:27). Parrish, racing through a lingering right leg injury, impressed Chamberlain coach Bill Strack.
"I thought we had a shot at winning (the event), but I was proud of the way Mark raced," Strack said. "He's had a (leg injury) that's been hindering him."
Sickle's Derek Wehunt, who was expected to challenge for the boys' title after setting a course record of 15:51 last year, conserved energy for some tough races ahead. He was 26th with a time of 17:40. Estero's Erick Montoya won in 16:05.