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STRATEGY FOR CONSERVATION

The Chiefs' Mark Parrish discovers that easing up on his workouts makes him faster.

One of the best distance runners in Hillsborough County sits on the tailgate of a pickup, bare feet dangling near the ground, and begins conversing in a vernacular that leaves his visitor in the intellectual dust.

Mark Parrish, fresh off a full-time summer internship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is talking about calibrations, wind velocity and vector fields. To an aspiring engineer vying for valedictorian status at Chamberlain, it's the groundwork for a potential senior project. For the average layperson, it's Greek.

"I can't keep up with him," Chiefs coach Bill Strack said.

Few can, be it on an advanced-placement exam or 5-kilometer course. Parrish, who has received a $150,000 academic scholarship offer from Drexel University, is a bona fide Class 4A state title contender. And one needn't be a science whiz to see why.

After a rigorous 2008 offseason in which he admits he pushed himself too hard, Parrish modified his training this summer and enters his final prep season fresh. Case in point: At the recent Red Mule 5K, an annual August tuneup for the season, Parrish won in 15:57 - 24 seconds ahead of runnerup Bo Nalsen of Plant.

"I think (the total mileage) was about the same this year, but I was definitely a little smarter about my workouts, being sure that I was balancing some easy days with some hard days," said Parrish, third at last season's 3A meet. "Last summer I was just kind of doing 10 at a time; 10 days without a break. ... That's not too smart."

Credit that NOAA internship - five days a week, eight hours a day - with forcing Parrish to ease up on his 5-foot-11, 135-pound body. In what he described as on-the-job preparation for his quest to be an engineer, Parrish hung out in calibration labs and tech shops, learning "a lot about circuits and electronics and stuff."

By day's end, running was a welcome respite.

"That was the big battle I had with him each of the last three years. I shouldn't say battle but, you know, typical high school kid, thought that he could go out and run hard every day," Strack said. "But he's learned from that. He's much smarter now."

And, quite possibly, faster. Parrish hopes to eclipse 15 minutes in a race this fall. He says it's a realistic goal, in part because his course load this year is easier.

He has six AP courses.

"I think he can do it," Strack said. "Obviously everything has to come together and work well, but if he goes out there and runs some real smart races. ... I think he will."

Top five teams

1. Plant: Defending region champ Trenor Wilkins may be out for several weeks with a stress fracture, but the Panthers have the county's best depth.

2. Chamberlain: The Chiefs possess arguably the county's best 1-2-3 punch in Mark Parrish, Max DelMonte and unheralded junior Jake Covington, but coach Bill Strack must rebuild the bottom portion of his lineup.

3. Robinson: Six of the Knights' seven finishers at last season's Class 2A meet (where Robinson placed 19th) were underclassmen.

4. Jesuit: No one was hit harder by graduation. Then again, no one seems to replenish their lineup like the four-time state champs.

5. Berkeley Prep: The Buccaneers, one of the area's most well-coached teams, could surprise if they can develop some depth.

Five runners to watch

Trenor Wilkins, Sr., Plant: The reigning region champion is nursing stress fractures in his legs, but coach Mike Boza anticipates he will return for the postseason.

Tyler Greathouse, Sr., Berkeley Prep: It only seems Greathouse has been around forever. The 2008 region champ is seeking his fifth consecutive top-25 finish at the Class A state meet.

Blake Lopez, Jr., Jesuit: Capable of emerging as a sub-16-minute runner, Lopez finds himself thrust into the role of leader.

Bo Nalsen, Jr., Plant: Those not aware his first name is pronounced "Boo" soon will be. He should lead the Panthers until Wilkins returns from his leg injury.

Bryan Garcia, Sr., Robinson: One of the area's most improved runners. After eclipsing 17 minutes at last year's state meet, appears poised for a breakthrough.

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