Her performances are destined to be overshadowed compared to a teammate who is the class of the area, but Anna
could be carving out a niche as a strong No. 2 for Hernando.
Despite showing few signs of turning in such a race in the days leading up to the Lecanto Invitational, the sophomore blew away her personal best with a time of 21 minutes, 14 seconds Saturday, finishing 13th overall in a strong field.
"That will pump her up for the rest of the season," coach Erin Sullivan said. "She needed that."
Gray had not been practicing well, in part due to nagging calf and hip injuries. She missed practice Friday to meet with a doctor, then ran the 3.1 miles the following morning like nothing was wrong.
"She ran like an animal," Sullivan said. "The pain didn't matter. She went out quick. That was the plan, to go out a little bit quicker, hang with the pack and even get ahead of the pack."
Gray did that, lowering her personal best by a whopping 36 seconds. Sullivan even reasoned that the performance would equal a sub-21-minute effort without the Lecanto course's hills and uncomfortable humidity.
In finishing third as a team, just two points behind the host Panthers, Hernando got a number of good showings.
Leela Hadsock was the headliner with a second-place effort, but Gray, Danielle Coopman (17th, 21:48), Josefine Tonn (32nd, 22:50) and Nicole Daughtry (46th, 23:37) turned in performances that validated months of training. "They needed a race to say, "All my summer efforts were worth it,' " Sullivan said. "They got proof."
NEXT STOP, TAMPA: Central and Hernando will travel to Ed Radice Sports Complex in Tampa Saturday for the flrunners.com Invitational, the biggest meet either team will run in all year. Central will be in the large-school races at 10:15 a.m. and 10:45. Hernando passed on a spot in the invitational race to, instead, run in the small-school event, which leads off the morning at 7:10 and 7:45.
"There's going to be some advantages to it," Hernando coach Ernie Chatman said. "It's going to be cooler, the field down there is mucky and the more people that run, the slower the track's going to be. It does us well to run the first race."
The early competition also helps Chatman's weekend plans. He will head from Ed Radice to the airport, bound for Keene, N.H., and the 40th state marathon in his drive to complete a 26.2-mile event in all 50 states.
THE LAST WORD: "You can't stop the season and be like, "Oh, I'm not ready for it.' You've got to be ready for anything," _ Jacob Bess, Central junior, after finishing first among county runners (11th overall, 17:25) in the Lecanto Invitational.
_ JOHN SCHWARB, Times staff writer
GIRLS/TEAM TIME RACE/DATE
Leela Hadsock, Hernando 20:04 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Anna Gray, Hernando 21:14 Lecanto Inv., Sept. 18
Danielle Coopman, Hern. 21:48 Lecanto Inv., Sept. 18
Kaitlyn Sauskojus, HCA 21:50 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Josefine Tonn, Hernando 22:50 Lecanto Inv., Sept. 18
Roxy Ceccarelli, Central 23:05 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Mary Ellen Langley, HCA 23:33 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
BOYS/TEAM TIME RACE/DATE
Jacob Bess, Central 17:11 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Ben Martucci, Hernando 17:14 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Bret Chatman, Hernando 17:19 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Thomas Mountain, Hern. 17:50 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Andrew Martucci, Hern. 17:51 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
Josh Dubois, Central 18:32 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
S. McManus, Sprgstd. 18:37 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28
_ JOHN SCHWARB, Times staff writer