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By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000
BRADENTON -- When Jessica Miller collapsed 20 feet from the finish line in last year's state championship, her coach thought she was suffering from dehydration.
But tests later showed Miller had Epstein-Barr syndrome, a virus that attacks her immune system and leaves her fatigued.
The condition kept Miller from running for six months.
Saturday, she celebrated her return in stunning fashion.
Miller placed eighth in the Class A, Region 3 cross country meet at G.T. Bray Park, lifting the Indian Rocks Christian girls to a surprising first-place finish.
"It was huge," Golden Eagles coach Kris Williams said of Miller's performance. "That was a major difference today."
Keswick Christian's Christa Benton crossed the finish line first, and seventh-grader Melissa Kotchman paced IRC with a second-place showing.
But it might have been Miller who made the biggest impact for the Eagles.
By finishing five spots higher than she did in the district meet, Miller allowed IRC to edge second-place Berkeley Prep 72-75. Keswick was third with 76 points.
Berkeley Prep's Rolf Steier won the boys race in a personal-best 14 minutes, 51 seconds, but Shorecrest topped Berkeley Prep 56-58 for the team title.
The top six squads and top 15 individuals advanced to the state meet Saturday in Titusville.
Benton warmed up for state by completing Bray Park's 3-mile course in 16:55. She sliced 18 seconds from her personal-record and 23 seconds from the time she ran last week at the district meet.
"I didn't expect to get it," Benton said. "I never thought I'd break 17 minutes."
Because of injuries to three of its top four runners, district champion Shorecrest needed contributions from its No. 6 and 7 entrants to finish fourth in the girls meet.
Top runner Brittany Whitelock placed seventh despite knee, ankle, back and shoulder injuries sustained in a car crash Monday.
No. 2 runner Kristin McLain dropped out after the first mile because of a knee injury. Cramps forced No. 4 Whitney Bour to the back of the pack.
As a result, Shorecrest needed personal records from Desilyn McKeage (21:31) and Kelly Nelson (21:53) to qualify for state.
"I think they were the key today," Chargers coach Jeff Raab said. "I needed the depth in there."
Matt Mosby paced Shorecrest in the boys race, finishing fourth with a time of 16:24.
Keith Evanouskas (10th) and Paul Collins (12th) were among the top 15.
Steier trimmed two seconds from the personal record of 14:53 he logged two weeks ago at the Bay Conference meet.
"My last mile was the difference," Steier said.
"I came in under five (minutes) today. That helped."