By BOB PUTNAM
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001
An eighth-place finish in the 16-team Pinellas County Athletic Conference meet might not sound like much of an accomplishment.
It is for Pinellas Park.
The Patriots girls had not finished in the top half of the conference in school history.
"I've been trying to find out some history with the program," Pinellas Park coach Oscar Sabillion said. "There wasn't much, so we're trying to set our own."
A three-year assistant with the program, Sabillion took over the team this season. The first priority was to increase the numbers. So Sabillion and his coaching staff combed the halls for recruits. It worked as the Patriots had 25 girls try out this season after having six the year before.
Besides the numbers, there also has been an improvement in individual and team honors. After missing out on the Florida Relays last season, Pinellas Park had three entries -- Kristin Mauger in the pole vault, Dominique Warren in the shot put and the 4x100 relay team -- this season for the first time in more than 15 years.
The field events were a big reason for Pinellas Park's leap in the PCAC standings. The Patriots had three girls -- Lauren Mauger, Kristin Mauger and Courtney Andries -- who placed in the top eight in the pole vault. Kristin Mauger was second with a vault of 8 feet. In addition, Warren was second in the shot put and Amber Cross placed third in the 300 hurdles.
"We're working on the fundamentals and gaining confidence," Sabillion said. "The coaching staff and the girls have worked together to get this turned around."
THROWN OFF TRACK: Last week was not exactly good to Christa Benton.
First, the Keswick Christian senior had her winning streak in the 1600 snapped by Melissa Kotchmann, a seventh-grader from Indian Rocks Christian. Then, on her way to the Mobile Meet of Champions, the family car had a flat tire near the Florida/Alabama border. To top it off, her win streak in the 3200 also was snapped with a runner-up finish.
Benton finished the 3200 in Mobile in 11 minutes, 26.67 seconds. Her time was more than 17 seconds off the winning mark set by Kentucky South Oldham's Ali Sauer (11:08.93).
Despite the flat tire, the slower times and the blemishes on her once perfect season, not all was lost. The Mobile Meet of Champions in Alabama invites the top runners from the Southeast. Benton went out hard and maintained an eight-second lead with about 800 meters to go. Then Sauer made her move, catching Benton with a lap-and-a-half left.