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By BRANT JAMES
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 19, 2000
TITUSVILLE -- Christa Benton strode with sandpiper steps to the stage Saturday, seemingly hoping to end her moment of adulation as quickly as possible.
That was hardly plausible before the throng that knew what the Keswick Christian senior had done the past three years. As a gold medal was placed around her neck -- for the third consecutive year -- as state champion in the Class A girls race, Benton had become just the fourth girl to win three state titles. Two have won four.
"I thought I did pretty good," she said quietly. "I tried to do the best I could."
One laurel eluded Benton in the sandy course of Brevard Community College. Benton ran a 16:55 earlier this year. Although her time of 17:25.74 was easily the fastest of any female in all classifications, she did not break Hilary White's 1998 record of 17:25.33. Benton as usual, went out hard the first 2 1/2 miles and held on to win her 11th consecutive race.
And as usual, Keswick coach Lance Lipham said, she led throughout thanks to the fighter lurking inside her demure frame.
"When she gets on the course, don't try and pass her because she likes the competition," he said. "She runs hard. She likes to take it out hard. She loses a lot of energy, and she does not have much left at the end of the race. She leaves it all out on the course. It's amazing how fast she runs because she is pretty much by herself."
Jacksonville Episcopal's Kara Scanlin was second in 17:52.42.
Keswick, in its fourth consecutive trip to the state meet, finished 10th with 254 points. Indian Rocks Christian led Pinellas schools in Class A with a seventh-place finish (207 points) behind a sixth-place finish by seventh-grader Melissa Kotchman (19:02.81). Sophomore Jessica Miller was 24th (20:16.17). Shorecrest was 13th (347).
CLASS 4A: Palm Harbor U. finished 17th and scored most of its points within a two-second span. Lauren McKinley led PHU by finishing 41st (19:56.64), one spot ahead of teammate Rebekah Lindsey (19:57) and two in front of Kerrie Savery (19:58.03).
CLASS 2A: Clearwater Central Catholic finished 19th (443 points), losing a chance to do better when freshman Apryl Wall, its top runner, arrived ill.
"Apryl has had the flu," assistant coach Colleen McBride said. "That was a shame because we had expected her to place in the top group."