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Pinellas County track & field preview: Class 3A and 4A

The Class 3A and 4A track season begins this week, and there are many pressing questions. The Times answered the top three for boys and girls.

Boys

Will Countryside continue to dominate? The Cougars have had a stranglehold on team titles, winning the conference meet the past three seasons and sweeping nearly every big meet last year.

Countryside has done it with a balance of place winners in the field events, sprints and distance races.

Some of that depth has thinned, so much that the Cougars will have to rely on a strong group of cross country runners to keep their place at the top.

Zach Christenson is the top returner and should be among the top two in the conference in the 1,600 meters. Others who will play a big role are Matt Worner, Jake Herrmann, Derek Messmore and Kosta Fotopoulos.

Lakewood, Largo, Gibbs and Seminole all could present challenges, especially in the field events and sprints.

Is this the year of the sprinter? All eyes will be on the 100 and 200 meters, two races packed with speedy returners.

Lakewood's Frank Minton, the running event MVP at the Ed Wells/Kiwanis Invitational, is the top returner. After that are a slew of football stars who will provide the toughest competition, including Northeast's Juarez Wynn, Largo's Mike Lang, Boca Ciega's Darrien Skinner and Gibbs' Jarvis West.

What about the distance races? Those will be strong, too. St. Petersburg's Wes Reynolds and Christenson will battle for top honors in the 1,600 and 3,200. Others in the mix are Seminole's Chase Sutton and Kevin Seisel, Largo's Thomas McGrath, Rick Pluta and Gabe Ramos, and Northeast's John Zurek.

And don't forget about Boca Ciega's Michael Leshore, who was third at state in the 800.

Girls

Who will emerge as the county's superstar? Palm Harbor University's Madison McNary dominated the county track scene the past two seasons and was the county athlete of the year in 2007 and '08. Two seasons ago, she won state titles in the 100 and 200 meters. Last year, she won conference, district and region titles in the 100, 200 and long jump. But McNary graduated and is now at the University of Florida.

The superstar void will likely be filled by a pair of Spartans. Lakewood's Kiona Anderson and Kala Funderburk are versatile athletes who can shine in multiple events. Last season, Anderson was a conference champion in the 100 and 300 hurdles. Funderburk helped the Spartans take the Ed Wells/Kiwanis Invitational team title by winning the 200 and 400, anchoring the winning 4x400 meter relay and finishing second in the high jump.

Which events will be the most competitive? The intermediate and distance races have the majority of top returners. In the 800, Seminole's Megan Lawrence is back after finishing second at state last year. Her toughest competition will most likely come from Maryah Finch of Tarpon Springs.

Some of cross country's top stars will headline the distance races, including Osceola's Alexis Irwin, Seminole's Kaitlyn Homme and Tarpon Springs' Kailand Cosgrove.

Which team has the best chance to win the conference? Lakewood has the most depth with enough sprinters, hurdlers and jumpers to defend its conference title. Palm Harbor University and Seminole are both strong in the distance races and will be contenders.

FAST FACTS

For the fans

Admission: Most schools charge $3.

Regular season: Monday is the first day for regular-season meets in Class 3A and 4A. The regular season ends April 18.

Postseason: The district meets for Class 3A and 4A are April 20-25. The top four in each event at district advance to region meets, on April 29-May 1 for 3A and 4A. The top four in each event at region advance to the state meets, which will be May 8 (3A) and May 9 (4A) at Showalter Field in Winter Park.

Pinellas County track & field preview: Class 3A and 4A 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 9:22pm]
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