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Elite field missing star runner

Today's Invitational V is one of the state's most prestigious meets. And one of its most loaded.

Gulliver's Bryan Sharkey and Mitchell's Jeff Masterson will run in the boys race of champions. Oviedo's Jenny Barringer and Pope John Paul II's Nicole Schappert will be in the girls race of champions.

But St. Petersburg's Kerry Allen won't be running.

Last year she was third in the race of champions, behind winner Barringer and Schappert. This year Allen still may be Pinellas County's top runner, but she is not ready to rejoin the state's elite after spending months recuperating from a stress fracture in her back.

Instead, Allen will lead the Green Devils against 33 other schools in the large school race at Tampa's Ed Radice Sports Complex.

Allen may not be ready to challenge the elite today, but she will have to some time this season. The large school race will help her prepare to do that, and also give St. Petersburg a measuring stick against the postseason competition.

"My coach and I talked about it and we think that it's probably best for me and my team right now to run with the team," she said. "There's a lot of teams from our district and region in the girls varsity race and so by running with them I can help us get a feel from where we stand amongst our competition."

That Allen can do. She won the girls title at the Largo Invitational earlier this season.

It's not that she can't run. She can. But the injury kept her from the kind of running elite competitors need to put in over the spring and summer.

"She missed all of track season and didn't start training again until the middle of June," coach Robb Townsend said. "We're just starting things slow. She's

progressing really well, she hasn't had any discomfort as far as her back. But we thought it would work out better for our overall plans if she ran with the team in the big school race.

"Hopefully we'll get a chance to see where we stand in terms of district competition. There are some really tough regions teams there as well, and we'll just about be at full strength."

Allen is the Green Devils' No. 1 runner, followed by No. 2 Katie Galloway, Tiffani Amo, Caileen Wood, Sara Cadwallader and Sara Crawford. The only one missing is freshman Tabitha Schofield, who usually runs in the 3-4-5 pack, but has a soccer conflict this weekend.

The race of champions just doesn't fit into the schedule Townsend has for Allen to come back from her injury. It's too soon to expect Allen to run the way she used to, without the training she's used to.

"The base is what she's missing," Townsend said. "Last year she had come off of cross country season as a freshman, track season as a freshman and that summer ran about 400 miles. So she missed the track season and she got some miles in this summer, but she didn't get 400 miles in. Missing track season is probably the biggest thing.

"As far as our plan, it's for her to come back at the state meet. If it happens before that, great. Our main goal is to keep her healthy and keep her from pain so that when the time rolls around, she'll be ready to go."

It's a plan Allen agrees with. She knows how far she is from where she was.

Last year her best time was 18 minutes, six seconds, which she ran at and Footlocker meets. This year it's 19:27, which she ran at the Run for Children 5-kilometer race in downtown Bradenton last weekend.

"It's the best decision for my team, and I also don't think I'm personally prepared to run in a race of this caliber," Allen said. "I don't think I'd be able to compete with a Jenny Barringer or a Nicole Schappert and the best in the state right now. I just haven't gotten my speed back and I don't have very much experience racing. I've only done three races in the last year.

"I pretty much have been following what my coach has been telling me to do and just trying to keep in mind that it's not important to run a fast time the first weeks of the season, but to focus more on the races at the end of the year."

Instead of running in the race of champions, Kerry Allen will compete in the large school race at the meet.


WHO: Race of champions division _ Seminole boys. Invitational division _ Indian Rocks Christian boys and girls; Keswick Christian girls. Large school division _ Seminole girls; St. Petersburg boys and girls. Small school division _ Calvary Christian boys and girls; Keswick Christian girls; Osceola girls

WHERE/WHEN: Ed Radice Sports Complex, today

AT STAKE: Medals and team cup trophies will be awarded.


_ JAMAL THALJI, Times staff writer