Plant's Caroline Annis and Clearwater's Shannon Burcham never had met before. But who would have guessed? For most of the Class 5A, District 5 meet Thursday, the two were inseparable.
At on a windy Crescent Lake Park course, the duo ran side by side, stride for stride, exchanging leads to the thrill of a captivated crowd.
When Burcham moved, Annis moved. When Burcham slowed, Annis slowed.
But then, on the turn home, Annis took the inside track and the friendship came to an end.
Annis, a freshman, sprinted the last 500 meters and held off a charging Burcham to win the girls' individual title in 11 minutes, 15 seconds.
Her teammates Rayane Lawrence (11:43), Kelly Renz (12:08), Alston Wallace (12:21) and Mary Pavan (12:23) finished third, sixth, ninth and 10th to continue Plant's dominance of the team competition. Plant, which has won the state championship the last three years, finished with 29 points, well ahead of New Port Richey schools Ridgewood (49) and Gulf (106).
"Today, I think I wanted to win more than usual," Annis said. "We were right together for most of the race, she would make a move and I would respond.
"I was hoping she would lose energy at the end, but she didn't seem to be (losing it). So I decided to sprint it out. With a half a mile left I knew I was really tired, I knew I had to do it now. I had just enough left."
Oh, by the way, Burcham sprinted too.
Undefeated in eight consecutive meets, the Clearwater sophomore was left holding onto the joy of her personal best time (11:17) and to the reminder that she will meet Annis and the rest pf the Plant squad in next week's regional competition.
"It was kind of back and forth, but I haven't raced against her at all so I didn't know what to expect," Burcham said. "I kind of took it too early and I wanted to see what she would do down the home stretch. Running against somebody her caliber is always good."
Going into the boys race, Largo coach Mike Beck knew how important his team's depth was to its chance of winning the 5A title. The good thing is his team knew as well.
With less than a mile left in the 3-mile race and Ridgewood's Matt Krcmaric assured of first place, Largo's Lee Speilberger felt himself and the team's title hopes fading.
He turned to teammate Chris Bruns and in between gasps, asked for help and Bruns gave him the lift he needed. Bruns and Speilberger passed Ridgewood's Ian Finn to finish second and third respectively and pace Largo to the district team title with 42 points. Ridgewood was second with 64 points, Jesuit third with 118 points.
6A-3: Snelling, Seminole roll
ST. PETERSBURG _ Senior Lou Snelling led a balanced Seminole attack and the Warhawks won the team title with 37 points. Manatee was second with 51 and Riverview third with 61.
Snelling, who has won all eight of his races this year, was pushed by Manatee's Matt Sisk and Sarasota's Jeff Grinberg. Snelling finished on a strong kick in 15:32, just ahead of Sisk (15:40) and Grinberg (16:04).
"It sure feels good to win the team title," Snelling said. "We worked really hard as a team."
Teammate Andy Lee said Snelling's unbeaten record and presence on the course was a lift to the rest of the team.
In the girls race, Manatee's Rene McManus took first place in 11:54, Diana Hartnup of Sarasota was second in 12:06 and Riverview's Kim Williams third in 12:28. Riverview took the team title with 40 points.