The Plant boys and girls teams are favored to capture today's Gaither Invitational cross country meet.
All 14 of Hillsborough County's public schools are expected to enter, as well as Tampa Catholic. Gaither coaches Peter Mirones and Vivian Canady said other schools are unconfirmed entrants.
The meet's location has been changed to the Carrollwood Village Golf & Tennis Club from Gaither's regular home course, Lake Park, due to construction at the park, Mirones said. Junior varsity girls will run at 5 p.m., followed by the junior varsity boys at 5:30. Varsity girls run at 6 and the boys at 6:30.
"The country club is a good course," Mirones said. "There's plenty of space on the side so the players don't have to run on the greens. It has a little roll to (the terrain), not hilly, but where the kids are going to have to run hard on the upgrades."
Individually, the Panthers also should claim the top spot in each race, area coaches say. Chris Ford is expected to win the boys race, and Beth Rooks, the top-ranked runner in the state in Class 3A, is the favorite among the girls.
Gaither sophomore Scott Levell could challenge Ford, while Plant City's Kelly Fuller will chase Rooks.
"Beth ran her best time yet last week in the Hernando Invitational, an 11:31 (over the 2-mile course)," said Plant coach Roy Harrison. "But the last race was mostly asphalt, and I don't see anyone pushing her to a faster time this week."
Harrison said the Panthers will be without No. 2 runner Nicole Koritkosky and No. 3 Ronda Chalk. Both are ill. But with Leto resting both its boys and girls for Saturday's Ridgewood Invitational, Plant should prevail today.
"I guess this meet is for county bragging rights, but it isn't as important to us as to some of the other schools," said Leto boys coach Bob Ennis. "We're banging our heads up against some of the best teams in the state. So on Tuesday we'll be training for Ridgewood instead of running at Gaither."
At Saturday's Barnett Bank Invitational in Gainesville, No. 1 Leto runner Bobby Steinlein placed fourth individually among 300 runners from 43 schools in the boys Class 3A-4A division. As a team, Leto finished fourth overall, one place behind Ridgewood.
"That was the largest race Leto has ever been in," Ennis said. "We did very well on a rain-soaked golf course in the driving rain."
Steinlein ran the 3-mile University of Florida course in 16:40, just three seconds off the pace. Leto's No. 2 runner, Chris Artz, finished 20th.
Shannon Bolles placed sixth among 3A-4A girls with a time of 20:49 to lead Leto's girls to a fourth-place finish.
Denise Koenig of the Academy of the Holy Names finished eighth individually in the girls Class A-2A race. Berkeley Prep finished fourth in the team standings and Tampa Catholic was fifth.
The Don Bishop/Lions Invitational cross country meet has been scheduled for Saturday at Brandon High School.
Junior varsity girls will run at 4 p.m., JV boys at 4:30, varsity girls at 5, and varsity boys at 5:30.