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TAMPA -- Front-runner Jerry Reckart, a senior at North Florida, and a group of leaders headed home prematurely on Bayshore Boulevard, losing about 10 seconds. They had followed the lead vehicle.
Reckart maintained his poise and gradually reeled in the few runners who passed him, regaining the lead and sustaining it to win the 5K in 15 minutes, 32 seconds.
"I knew enough not to panic when I learned I was off course," said the 6-foot-3, 159-pound Reckart, who holds the Ospreys' indoor mile record at 4:10. "Since we still had over 11/2 miles to go, I knew enough to be patient. Even if it came down to a sprint to the finish, I was confident my kick would get it done for me."
Reckart couldn't let up during the last mile as A.J. Wilson, a freshman at Florida State, keep up the pressure. Wilson finished in 15:40.
Kevin Cook of Fern Park took third in 15:56, followed by Jim Van Veen (16:11) of FSU, Louis Rufo (16:16) of Cape Coral and Shawn Patterson, another FSU cross-country runner, in 16:18. Danny Ayers of River Ridge High finished 21st in 17:26.
The first masters division men's finisher was Tampa's Walt Conrad, 45, in 25th in 17:43.
1989 Seminole High graduate Misty Harper, returning to the bay area from Tallahassee, where she runs track and cross country for FSU, overtook a starting line sprinter and did not relinquish the lead, winning by five seconds in 18:54.
Harper said she felt a slight cramp at the turnaround point at Dakota Avenue. That, and last year's winner, FSU teammate Laura Melendez, being on her heels sent a message.
"I realized I had to pick up the pace or Laura was going to get me," said Harper, a psychology major with a best 5K of 18:09. "I never looked back heading home. I just concentrated on the finish line."
Romy Krueger of Jacksonville broke up the FSU duo by taking second in 18:59. Melendez crossed in 19:02, followed by Angela Jacquez (19:11) of Claremont, Calif., and Indian Rocks Christian School's Melissa Kotchman in 19:12.
Kotchman, a freshman, was the Times 2002 Pinellas cross-country runner of the year after taking third at the state Class A meet and improving her time at the Foot Locker Southern Regional.
Elaine Rancatore, 44, of Miramar finished seventh in 19:55. Bree Schrader, 9, of Spring, Texas, finished 20th in 21:50.