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Saunders helps Spartans to PCAC championship

Lakewood's Emily Saunders came away with something after all. She finished strong, she ran her personal best for the course and she led her team to the Pinellas County Athletic Conference cross country championship.

Oh, there was that one little thing _ she didn't win. And it appears as long as Clearwater's Shannon Burcham doesn't break a leg, Saunders will continue to settle for second place.

Burcham's legs were just fine. In fact, they were quite speedy and they carried the county's top runner to her seventh consecutive win and gave her the girls' individual conference title at Crescent Lake Park Thursday.

Burcham's time of 11 minutes, 28 seconds, well ahead of Saunders' mark of 11:41, was a fitting end to a race in which Burcham sprinted the first 200 meters and was never behind.

"I felt pretty good out there and I just wanted to go out there as hard as I can from the start," Burcham said. "I knew (Saunders) was behind me, I could hear her, I could hear the people cheering for her. But I just had to run my race."

In Saunders' eyes, there were some moral victories.

"The last time we raced, she pulled ahead of me on the second mile, but this time, I made up ground on her," Saunders said. "When she's that far ahead I can easily get discouraged, but I never give up.

"The last time we met (Oct. 12 at Taylor Park) she beat me by 24 seconds this time it was only 13 seconds."

Considering that Lakewood competed without senior Dianne Biniasz and with Chastity Ott ailing from the flu, the team title was a tribute to the Spartan depth.

"I'm proud of these girls, Emily had her course PR and Heather (Levering) ran her best race of the year," Lakewood coach Liz Collins said. "The big moral boost was the return of senior Jill Stone, who ran her first race of the year.

"I think the girls were really excited about her return."

Among the boys, the script was almost identical. Seminole Lou Snelling made it seven wins in seven meets when he took the boys' individual title in 15:45 ahead of Dixie Hollins' John Hope (16:03) and Largo's Chris Bruns (16:13).

"I just try to push it as hard as I can," Snelling said. "I'm going to try to go undefeated, but I don't know what can happen."

On the strength of Bruns, Jacob Zamitto (fourth, 16:16) and Lee Spielberger (fifth, 16:21), Largo (37 points) edged Seminole (44 points) for the team title.