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WEATHERING THE RAPID START

Shorecrest's Alex Eaton battles to stay with early sprinters then pushes on by to take third overall.

In accordance with her teammates, Shorecrest junior Alex Eaton arrived at Saturday's Class A cross country championships with a yellow bow in her hair and mint-green polish on her fingernails.

She exited with one more bright accessory: a medal.

Competing in her fourth state meet, the St. Petersburg High transfer earned her first top-10 finish, fighting through a blistering early tempo to place third (18:33.78).

"I would say the beginning kicked my butt because everyone was sprinting and I'm not a sprinter; I didn't even do track last year," said Eaton, who planned to celebrate with her teammates at a party rife with pizza and doughnuts at her St. Petersburg home.

"I'm not used to those really hard, sub-five-minute paces. ...That part was pretty rough."

The performance highlighted Pinellas County's collective effort on the rolling hillsides and compact shell paths of Apalachee Regional Park.

Shorecrest's girls posted the county's top team finish, placing third (143 points). Eighth-grader Olivia Rovin (16th, 19:34.75) was the Chargers' No. 2 finisher.

Pony-tailed Countryside senior Paul "Megadeth" McKenna led the local boys, capping a sparkling senior year with a ninth-place effort in the 4A race in a personal-best 15:56.24.

"I feel amazing," said McKenna, whose own eclectic fashion statement included black-and-white striped socks with purple toes. "What a great senior year."

On a clear morning that screamed for a breakneck start (race-time temperatures were in the mid 50s), McKenna started fast but moderately. As a result, he reserved enough in his tank to conquer the 200-meter gradual incline on the backstretch known as "The Wall."

"I took the hill more strategically than I saw a lot of other people do," said McKenna, who also won the Pinellas County Athletic Conference, district and region titles this fall. "You don't attack the hill, you respect the hill. And so people are dying coming off the hill."

The top-10 finishers in each race earned medals. Clearwater Central Catholic senior Saphara Harrell placed 11th in the girls Class A race (19:15.09), missing a medal by less than four seconds. Shorecrest junior Ross Porter was 14th in the Class A boys race (16:39.05).

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