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TAMPA - Getting out in the lead pack wasn't exactly the best strategy at the W.D. Johnson Invitational, the final cross country race of the regular season before district competition begins.
Both winners - Wharton's Pedro Carela and Tampa Catholic's Meghan Sullivan - remained in the second group of runners for the majority of the 3-mile course before coming from behind to win at Ruskin's E.G. Simmons Park.
For Sullivan, a sophomore in her first year of competitive running, the victory was the first of her career. She overtook Brandon's Megan Thies shortly before passing the 2-mile mark and entering the beach portion of the course to win in 19 minutes, 58 seconds, 17 seconds better than Thies (20:15).
"I was just trying to keep the leaders within my sights," Sullivan said.
"By doing that, it helped me get ahead."
Thies and Brandon's Sarah Drake broke out early and alternated in the lead for nearly 2 miles.
Sullivan, after overtaking the two, steadily pulled away.
"I thought they were close behind (at the end) because they both started out really strong," she said. "They're both good runners. I thought they were within distance of me the whole time. It helped me finish strong."
Brandon had three girls in the top five and four in the top 10 to win the girls team title.
Carela, the No. 13-ranked runner in Class 3A, waited a bit longer before making his move.
Third with about half of a mile left and 40 yards behind race leader Javier Beuzeville of Freedom, Carela saw an opening and kicked past Beuzeville and Brandon's Drew Woodke to win in 16:02.
"I just saw him tire and took advantage," Carela said. "My coach helped me throughout the course. He's like, 'These guys are done, come on.' I could see their legs; it looked like they were slowing down. So I just took advantage."
Durant's Kevin Jones followed Carela to take second place in 16:08. Woodke was third (16:10), and Beuzeville finished fourth (16:11).
Carela's finish helped lead Wharton to the boys team title.
"Last week in the County Cup (at Ed Radice Park), I finished in 17:01 because the whole pack just went out too fast," said Carela, who finished 10 seconds slower than Beuzeville at that event. "It was way above my pace. I learned from that race."