The Hurricanes view their PCAC crown as only the first in a series of achievements.
By JAMAL THALJI
Published October 20, 2004
PALM HARBOR - Winning the program's first Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship is the start, not the end, for Palm Harbor U.
The end for the Hurricanes? Where else?
A PHU team hasn't been to state since 2000. The last PHU runner to make it to state is a sophomore - in college. Rebecca Lindsey did it in 2002. None of the 'Canes have gone since.
But then PHU has never had a team like this one. This is a team that last week wrested the PCAC title from Largo and Seminole's iron grip, winning by 12 points.
This is a young team, with only one senior, Beth McCubbin, who was ninth at the PCAC race.
But most importantly, this is also a deep team. It was No. 4 runner Laura Levin, a freshman, and No. 5 Jackie Sullivan, who came up with the winning points, finishing 16th and 19th, respectively.
Together with No. 1 Stephanie Rancich (fifth at PCAC), No. 2 Sarah Wilkerson (sixth) and No. 3 McCubbin, they are the reasons why PHU coach Darryl Southard said the best could still be ahead.
"The big thing has been the No. 4-5 runners," Southard said. "That was our big reason (for) winning this race. Every year we've always had runners, 1-2-3, that could run with Largo and Seminole. There were years we had the best runners in the county.
"But I never had the depth, so we lost too many points at the No. 4-5 spots. That's why I knew we had a chance to do well because I knew immediately my No. 4-5s were much stronger than in years past."
Numbers are never a problem at PHU, Southard said, but convincing the kids they can excel at cross country was. The least kids he's ever had show up for the first day of practice is about 40, the most is about 80.
But finding kids to back up the elite runners isn't as easy as getting them to show up after school for practice every day.
"When you have that many numbers, a lot of these kids were without cross country in middle school," the coach said. "They don't know they can do it when they get out there, until they figure out it's not as bad as they thought."
In the first five years of Southard's seven-year tenure as coach, the Hurricanes were represented at state. And in 1998, PHU won its only district title, by a point over Largo, despite losing the PCAC title to the Packers by three points the week before.
PHU faces a significant challenge at today's Class 4A, District 3 meet: Sarasota Riverview and Gaither, two of 4A's best teams. If PHU is to reach state, Southard said, then maybe running alongside those teams can get the 'Canes to the next level.