A season of tough 3-mile runs and hotly contested meets are all designed to lead runners toward a peak performance. That time is here.
Saturday at the Ed Radice Sports Complex in Tampa, hundreds of runners and 96 teams will converge for what promises to be a flurry of personal-bests and possible state records.
Here are the top four things to look for:
Clearwater Central Catholic's Kevin Lyons has dominated all season but faces one of the best in Rockledge's Sean Burris, who won his regional in 15 minutes, 1 second last week. Lyons won his in 15:35, but wasn't pushed.
Often, comparing times run on different courses is difficult, but this much is clear: Burris is the runner to beat and Lyons is the runner some think can do it.
Indian Rocks Christian's Melissa Kotchman, just an eighth-grader, has
no illusions about winning the Class A title. She just wants to come close.
Say, second place?
How close she actually comes to expected winner Kara Scanlin of Episcopal remains to be seen, but for an eighth-grader chasing a trio of talented seniors, second place will officially trumpet Kotchman's arrival as the top runner in the state for next year.
Kotchman's plan is to run with No. 2-ranked Kara Newell of Tallahassee Maclay. Kotchman is ranked No. 3 and Frostproof senior Angie Gutierrez is No. 4. However, last week at regionals, Kotchman beat Gutierrez by 23 seconds.
"I'm hoping to run with Kara Newell," Kotchman said. "My coach said I could. I'm just going to try and stay with her and see what I can do."
St. Petersburg Catholic is much like Lyons and Kotchman in that it will chase a seemingly unbeatable foe: Maclay.
Ranked No. 1, Maclay finished 2-3-4-5-6 last week to win regionals without top runner Ryan Deak (who boasts a best time of 14:42). That's too bad, because the No. 2-ranked Barons have one of the better packs in the state, but lack the firepower at the top. The district and regional champions have enough to finish second with Tony Cormier, Keith Evanouskas and Robert Yevich.
Pinellas County will be represented by a bushel of teams, most notably the Barons. But Indian Rocks Christian's boys and girls are hoping for top 10 finishes, and the Eagles boys have hopes of catching the Barons.
Keswick won the girls regional last week and will join Shorecrest at state. The Shorecrest and Admiral Farragut boys teams will give Pinellas County four of the 24 teams in that race.
In Class 3A, both Seminole teams will compete. While the Warhawk boys are unlikely to repeat last year's second-place finish, Gordon Redshaw leads a senior-dominated group that needs to keep up with him.
Nicole Ferraro and Sarah Stargel finished second and third last week at regionals to lead the Warhawks to a third-place finish.