Class 5A, District 5
When and where: Tonight at Crescent Lake Park in St. Petersburg. The girls will race at 4:30 p.m., the boys at 5.
Outlook: The Ridgewood and Gulf girls will get the first of what probably will be three cracks at three-time defending state champion Plant, which is ranked No. 1 in the state and No. 20 in the country by Harrier Magazine.
Plant runners Caroline Annis and Rayane Lawrence are 1-2 in the state individual rankings, and will pose a stiff challenege for the pack attack of No. 2-ranked Ridgewood.
"They have us beat on paper all over the place," said Ridgewood coach Glenn Cable. "We have to put four girls ahead of their number three, and all five have to get in between their pack and that won't be easy. But we have three shots to do it."
No. 7-ranked Gulf has closed on the Rams in recent weeks, and Bucs coach Dean Lofton said, "I'm not making any predictions, but we'll get even closer." Lofton most hope for a return to form by Leah Wojner, who has been hampered by a foot injury. Jenny Cregan stepped up at last week's conference meet and took fifth.
The Ridgewood boys, ranked No. 6, are led by Matt Krcmaric (No. 5 individually), Ian Finn (No. 9) and James Ceccarini. They will get their toughest challenge from Largo.
The top five individuals and top six teams move on to next Saturday's regional meet at Crescent Lake. Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties will be represented at tonight's 19-team meet.
Class 4A, District 4
When and where: Saturday morning, McKethan Lake Park..
Outlook: Hernando and River Ridge will be the class of the boys race, while defending girls state champion Lakewood will get challenges from Hernando and River Ridge.
The Leopard boys are ranked No. 4 in the state and are slight favorites, especially if top River Ridge runner ChrisHannon (No. 3 individually) can't come back strong from a bout with bursitis.
Hannon has missed the past four weeks, but could have run last week if needed. He probably will use this meet as a regional tune-up.
"He'll run this week and it'll make a big difference, but even without him we'd advance," said Royal Knights coach Bill Napolitano.
In Hannon's absence, Mike Dorkowski has stepped up and run his best races of the season lately. But Arik Chellew, the state's No. 4-ranked runner, has carried River Ridge.
River Ridge's Jacki Waller is the favorite to win the girls race. She is unbeaten in the county this year.
A couple of other county teams have solid chances of advancing to next week's regional meet, especially since at least two of the schools in each race won't post team scores. The Zephyrhills boys finished just 20 points behind River Ridge at last weekend's Sunshine Athletic Conference meet on the strength of Will Staples' seventh-place finish, but the Bulldogs won't have a girls team score. The Pasco boys are led by Nathan Ledbetter and also have a chance to move on. They also have no girls team. But both boys teams could advance.
The lack of girls teams, however, should open the door for Hudson and even the Land O'Lakes girls teams, which were fourth and sixth respectively at the SAC race.