© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2002
TAMPA -- Regardless of her out-of-pocket cost, Mitchell coach Florie Buono is determined her team will compete at the USF/Jesuit Invitational.
"We come to the USF meet every year because we think it's great competition to meet these other schools instead of staying in Pasco County forever," Buono said.
"We make it a point to be here every year. I have to pay for it myself because the athletic director won't pay for it, but we do it anyway because it's important to get out here and see these Hillsborough County schools."
For the Mustangs, it was worth every cent as they got a chance to compete against 15 of the best teams in the Tampa Bay area and pulled off a 12th-place finish Saturday.
In addition to the opposition, the balmy weather and challenging course delivered an even greater challenge. "It was a tough course," Buono said. "There were a lot of hills. The hills did in Nicole Guercio. She wasn't quite ready to go and do those hills, so she fell off the lead pack early and that was it."
Guercio clocked in at 20 minutes, 55.94 seconds for 16th place. Teammate Briana Dougherty finished 44th in 22:37.13 and Erica Sloms was 54th in 23:11.81.
Buono said that while the Mustangs' performance fell short of her expectations with two runners slowed by illness, next week's Gator Invitational in Gainesville would prove a better barometer of Mitchell's progress.
"With two runners running sick and Nicole running hills, it just wasn't our stuff," Buono said. "If it's not a hilly course, we should do much better next week."
The subpar effort for the Mustangs gave Buono a clear-cut direction to take Mitchell's workouts as the team prepares for the remainder of the season.
"I think it showed my No. 5 runner that she needs to be at practice every time, that she needs to close that door," Buono said.
"I think she was able to see at this big of a meet what difference she can make for the team."
Plant won the girls elite division title with 82. Largo was second with 96, followed by Sarasota Riverview (150), Gaither (150) and Indian Rocks Christian (167).
The Mitchell girls scored 272.