LARGO - After years of finishing behind Largo and Seminole, Palm Harbor University runners are no longer Pinellas County Athletic Conference bridesmaids.
The PHU girls won the program's first PCAC championship in its nine-year history at Taylor Park, edging runnerup Largo by 12 points.
It was the evening's only bit of drama.
St. Petersburg's Kerry Allen repeated as girls champion on the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes, 51 seconds while teammate Tommy Nagy won the boys title (16:20). The Seminole boys beat St. Petersburg by 64 points to win the school's second-straight title and ninth in 10 years.
PHU coach Darryl Southard knew Stephanie Rancich (fifth, 20:10), Sarah Wilkerson (sixth, 20:21) and Beth McCubbin (ninth, 20:51) would turn in big finishes.
But what about freshman Laura Levin, newly promoted to varsity, and Jackie Sullivan?
They would be the difference. Levin placed 16th (21:47) and Sullivan 19th (21:50). Last year PHU helped Largo edge runnerup Seminole. This year the 'Canes helped themselves over the defending champs.
"Those two were the keys because we expected to have our three top runners up there," Southard said. "We didn't know where No. 4 and 5 were.
"To be honest, some of the girls asked me about this before the race and I truly thought we would finish second. This is the first time we've been healthy since the first race of the year."
Wilkerson's hip and Sullivan's ankle have been concerns. But the back of St. Petersburg's Allen is less and less of a worry.
She missed summer workouts to heal a stress fracture, but Thursday knocked 20 seconds off her previous season best and is just five seconds off last year's winning PCAC time.
"It was a good race and I was hoping to go sub 19 so I could go into the district having a good time to work off of," Allen said.
Personal bests fell like dominoes at Taylor Park. Runnerup Ali Crabb of Lakewood knocked 20 seconds off her best time (19:32). "That's good enough for me," she said. Largo's Kayley Matthews, who collapsed at the finish in third place (19:47), set a school record by six seconds. Clearwater's Alex Lechner also dropped 20 seconds to place fourth (19:56).
Seminole's Tony Nicolosi made three stabs at Nagy's lead, but still finished second for the boys. "I wanted to win the race and I went out trying to win the race," Nicolosi said. "But Tommy Nagy, he's the man."
Nagy won by 17 seconds to set a personal record, his real goal in a race he entered as the overwhelming favorite.
"Every race is important," he said. "I'm just out here to run PRs, looking to submit them to colleges. I take every race seriously and just try to PR."
But the PCAC team title was the Warhawks' real goal, placing six in the top 15. After Nicolosi (16:37), Eric Cobelens (16:43), Josh Comer (16:49) and Aaron Thomas (17:00) finished 4-5-6. Dustin Kapper (17:18) was eighth and Anthony Buccellato 13th (17:40).
"We knew we had to show," Nicolosi said. "We couldn't have any letdowns."