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IN THEIR COMFORT ZONE

Countryside is banking on its experience to reach the next level.

Skill, of which the Countryside boys cross country team has plenty, isn't the only thing working in the Cougars' favor this fall.

"We have a lot of experience, too," coach Eileen Givens said. "And we're optimistic because of that."

The Cougars should be. From a squad that placed 14th at last season's Class 4A state meet, they return their top four finishers and six of the top seven.

Two of Countryside's best runners, seniors Zachary Christenson and Matthew Worner, have been under Givens' tutelage since she began as coach four seasons ago. Two others, Jacob Herrmann and Kosta Fotopoulos, are in their third years with the program.

"When all of those kids started, I liked their work ethic," Givens said. "I liked the determination they had and that they weren't going to give up. Back then we were young and inexperienced, but by their sophomore years they saw what they had to do to get to the next level."

After failing to reach state in 2006 and '07, the Cougars took a giant step forward a year ago. Now Givens and Co. think the program can improve on that by reaching the top 10.

"That's our goal," Givens said. "We're preparing for it."

Christenson, who was 39th at state last year, is Countryside's top returner. Herrmann isn't far behind; he took 69th at state.

Fotopoulos and Worner also are strong and provide depth, giving Countryside arguably the county's most balanced boys squad.

"They've all progressed each year," Givens said. "We really hope to be able to build off the momentum of last season."

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FAST FACTS

Boys to watch

Zachary Christenson, Sr., Countryside: Cougars' top returnee

Kosta Fotopoulos, Sr., Countryside: Has ability to run sub-17 minutes

Jacob Herrmann, Sr., Countryside: Was 69th at state in '08

Josh Johnson, Sr., Indian Rocks Christian: Recorded 18:08 at Class A meet

Chase Sutton, Jr., Seminole: Posted stellar 16:50 at state

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For the fans

District meets, Nov. 2-7: The first six placing teams and top 15 runners in meets in which 14 or fewer teams are entered, and the first eight placing teams and top 15 runners in each meet in which 15 or more teams are enteredadvance.

Region meets, Nov. 12-14:The first six placing teams and top 15 runners in each meet advance to the FHSAA Finals.

FHSAA finals, Nov. 21:Little Everglades Ranch, Dade City

District assignments

4A, District 4: Clearwater, Countryside, East Lake, Northeast, Palm Harbor University, Pinellas Park, St. Petersburg, Seminole

3A, District 5: Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Dunedin, Gibbs, Lakewood, Largo, Osceola, Tarpon Springs

2A, District 5: St. Petersburg Catholic

A, District 5: Admiral Farragut, Calvary Christian, Canterbury, Clearwater Central Catholic, Indian Rocks Christian, Keswick Christian, Northside Christian, Shorecrest Prep

Independent: Lakeside Christian

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