On a morning of optimal running conditions, ubersuccessful Plant girls coach Roy Harrison knew he'd need an optimal effort from his veteran team.
For the most part, he got it. On a cold, clear morning, Harrison was pleased by the Panthers' collective effort. But he was astounded by Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas' Aquinas'.
Plant's quest for a third consecutive Class 4A team title, and Harrison's 11th overall, was thwarted by the Raiders, who put all five runners in the top 18 to prevail on a rolling countryside course at Apalachee Regional Park.
"Nobody had a bad race," said Harrison, who put his entire quintet in the top 24. "It's just that Aquinas ran a great race. They went out fast and they held it."
On a day chock full of sterling local efforts, Plant's runnerup finish by the girls team was the best, barely.
Jesuit junior Tim O'Loughlin placed third in the Class 2A boys race in 16:06.48, shattering his personal record by 10 seconds. The Tigers placed third as a team, with sophomore Hunter Revord also notching a personal-best effort (16:43.77) to place 19th, one spot behind Berkeley Prep's Max Borland. The Buccaneers finished fifth as a team.
"I was hoping I sort of could stick with the top guys; I knew who they were," O'Loughlin said. "So my goal was to stick with them. I was able to do that and it all worked out. ... The year was great for us."
The top-10 individual finishers in each race earned medals. Academy of the Holy Names junior Claire Snyder, benefiting from the chill accompanying an 8 a.m. start, broke out briskly and placed fifth (18:51.96) to earn her second career medal.
"I wanted to get good position because I knew if I went out slow I'd never be able to make it up," Snyder said. "But I do think I went out a little bit too fast. I was already feeling it. Two hundred meters in, I was like, 'Oh, it's really fast.'"
By contrast, Plant senior Julia Rodriguez never attained the tempo or time she sought, yet she still placed a team-best ninth (18:50.86).
The effort culminated a surreal month for Rodriguez, who earned top-10 state, region and district finishes despite battling mononucleosis.
"I was spitting the whole time on myself, I had mucus buildup like crazy," she said. "My legs felt fine but my stomach was hurting. I just felt horrible; it was a really bad race."
Seffner Christian senior Josh Keenan felt precisely the opposite after crossing the finish line in 16:25.13 in the boys Class A race to place 10th. The Crusaders placed fourth as a team, with senior Noah Lambert finishing 20th.
"This week I went out moderate so I wouldn't kill myself and ran my best," Keenan said.
Newsome placed sixth in the 4A girls race, with veteran Brianna Jackson capping a resurgent senior year with a 17th-place effort (19:21.16). Wolves senior Lars Benner finished two seconds shy of a medal in the boys race, placing 11th in 15:58.05.
Plant's boys finished fifth, putting its top five runners in the top 52. Senior Bryce Weaver led the way with a personal-best effort (16:15.93) to place 20th.
Steinbrenner's boys were fifth in 3A, led by 11th-place senior Matt Magee. Sickles senior Abdin Fator, the reigning county champion, was 19th in the same race, three spots ahead of Steinbrenner's Tyler Lima, who stumbled roughly 15 yards from the finish line.