The 2013 Sunshine Athletic Conference cross country meet at Wiregrass Ranch High on Saturday went much the same as it did last year, at least from a team standpoint.
The Land O'Lakes boys and Wiregrass Ranch girls repeated as conference champions.
In the boys race, Land O'Lakes scored 28 points to Wiregrass Ranch's 70. The Gators edged Wiregrass a year ago by just 14 points. The Gators left no doubt Saturday, as they swept the top three spots, led by Travis Nichols' victory in 15:55, with Tyler Stahl (16:03) and Jake Poore (16:18) following. The Gators also had runners in 10th, 12th, and 13th.
Nichols won the Gator Invitational a week ago but Stahl led early Saturday.
"Tyler had a great first 2 miles, I couldn't stay with him, but after that first two I got a burst of energy," Nichols said.
Gulf was third (104) and Mitchell fourth (125).
On the girls side, Wiregrass Ranch repeated with 46 points, just ahead of Mitchell (51), Gulf (68) and Land O'Lakes (78). Last year, the Wiregrass girls ran away with the conference title on the back of recent grads Nikita Shah and Berlin Walters. This time Bulls runners Madison Conway (20:11), Kerry Reilly (20:26) and Elise Cedre (20:29) finished third, fourth and fifth overall, respectively.
Individually, Mitchell junior Emily Kerns and Gulf's Kari Grippo battled at the front throughout. Grippo holds the SAC meet record from 2011 (18:31) and Kerns was fourth at the meet a year ago. The two separated from the pack early and pushed each other's pace furiously.
"I love races like that, you tend to get (personal records) and feed off each other's energy," Kerns said.
Kerns and Grippo were stepping stride-for-stride in the waning moments of the cool morning. Finally, at the 2-mile mark, the separation occurred.
"I don't know if it was me that sped up or her that slowed down, but either way it worked for me," Kerns said. "At some point I couldn't hear her anymore and I knew she wasn't right on my tail."
Kerns entered the track at Wiregrass Ranch and headed toward the finish line with 18 minutes on the clock. She settled for first in 19:10, still a personal best for the county champ.
Grippo saw the writing on the wall as the pair crossed the 2-mile mark. "I know Emily is an 800 (meter) runner, she's strong on shorter distances and she had a great kick that last mile," Grippo said.