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Two-team hegemony in danger

Palm Harbor University might have the depth to join Seminole and Largo as county powers.

Published September 1, 2004

The 2004 girls cross country season begins with today's Largo Invitational, and you know what that means.

Seminole and Largo. Largo and Seminole.

Between the consistent dominance the past few years of St. Petersburg phenom Kerry Allen and Indian Rocks Christian's Melissa Kotchman, and of course those Packers and Warhawks alternating victories at the public school level, the girls running scene has been much like a broken record.

This season, that could change.

Not since Lakewood of the mid-1990s has a girls team been able to run with Seminole and Largo, but Palm Harbor University High has its sights set on joining the party starting today.

"We're going to try for that," PHU coach Darryl Southard said. "Obviously, that's one of our goals. They definitely put the standard out there for us to shoot for."

The Hurricanes have flirted with the upper echelon the past few years, but a lack of depth always thwarted their efforts. This year, Southard thinks he might have the right combination.

"What has been holding us back in challenging Seminole and Largo is the fact that we've always had the frontrunners that can run with them, but (at) our (No.) 4 and fives spots there was too big of a gap," he said. "We're definitely getting closer at that fourth spot, and could at five."

The reason for Southard's optimism is senior Beth McCubbin and sophomore Hannah Spilker. Both ran cross country last year but were taking on a new distance. By the end of the season, Spilker - who Southard has penciled in at No. 5 - was the junior varsity team's best runner, and McCubbin was a member of a 4x800 team that took second at state.

"I fully expect Palm Harbor to be good," Largo coach Mike Beck said. "They had some success in track, and they had 50 girls come out for the team. You gotta have something there."

The Hurricanes will be led by junior Stephanie Rancich, the other runner on the 4x800 team. She could challenge for No. 2 in the county behind St. Petersburg's Kerry Allen, who sat out track season with a back injury but, if healthy, is the best runner in Pinellas County.

Rancich will run her first cross country race today, but has been impressive during road races over the summer.

So too have sophomores Sarah Wilkinson, the team's top returner, and Jackie Sullivan. Both have shown marked improvement over last season.

However, the Largo and Seminole quiniela will not be an easy ticket to tear up.

The Packers return everyone but Deanna Drugash, including all-county picks Layla Hall and Kaley Matthews. Hall did not run track or do roadwork over the summer, so like last year she could bloom late.

Matthews, along with Sara Bass, Amanda Mills and Kristin Fox, give the Packers an experienced group to contend with.

"I think we're probably pretty good," Beck said. "I think we match up with Seminole pretty well. But I told the girls, don't be surprised if you see a bunch of different teams up there this year."

Provided Indian Rocks Christian's Melissa Kotchman and Allen are healthy, the Warhawks have one of the county's best runners in Jennan Sappington and Mary Magee.

Most coaches peg Largo and Seminole as a solid 1-2 pick. But this year they might have to make room for other.

"Everyone is very excited for the first race because every public school team is going to be out there," Southard said. "They know everyone isn't going to run their personal bests, but it will be exciting to see how they stack up with the rest of the county."

Preseason rankings

1. Kerry Allen, St. Petersburg

2. Melissa Kotchman, Indian Rocks Chr.

3 Anna Deschryver, Countryside

4. Kaley Matthews, Largo

5. Stephanie Rancich, Palm Harbor U.

6. Jennan Sappington, Seminole

7. Alex Lechner, Clearwater

8. Janelle Hewell, Indian Rocks Christian

9. Pavendeep Birk, Shorecrest

10. Sarah Wilkerson, Palm Harbor U.

[Last modified September 1, 2004, 01:10:40]


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