Grace Blair of Oak Hall and Cooper LaBrant of Indian Rocks Christian both finished second at last year's regional, but came away with gold in 2016. On the team front the Oak Hall girls achieved their goal of winning with less than 40 points, while the boys had it a little harder edging out St. Stephens Episcopal by THREE points 97-100. Andy Warrener recaps all the 1A Region 2 action.
Grace Blair and Oak Hall have become names synonymous with dominance. Blair was third at last year's state meet and her team has been nipping at the top tier for the last six years with a title in 2012 and runner-up finishes in 2014, 2013, 2011 and 2010. Blair, even though she's just a junior, has been there the whole time, competing on varsity and making the state meet as early as the sixth grade. Few runners on the course at Holloway could match the experience that Blair brought to the meet. It showed as she won in dominant fashion, logging a 19:15.3, more than 25 seconds in front of Shorecrest Prep runner up Olivia Rovin.
"I don't take anything for granted," Blair said. "I appreciate that so many people want to get to state but so few make it."
2016 will mark Blair's sixth trip to the state meet. She's quite familiar with the course at Holloway as well and feels it's the more difficult course of the two (state course).
"I ran it (Holloway) twice last year, this was my first this year," Blair said. "I feel like I've got the more difficult course out of the way."
Rovin was still a feel-good story, taking the runner up spot. After fighting off Hodgkin's lymphoma her junior year, she's finally getting back up to speed where she was her sophomore year. She is heading to states with yet another chance to prove her mettle.
Oak Hall's Nydia Perez landed in third at 20:06.92 and the Oak Hall girls dominated with 36 points, the lowest total of any other girls team, regardless of classification at the meet.
In the boys race, pocket-sized Cooper LaBrant made a suitcase-sized statement on Friday. LaBrant surged out in front early, already with a decent lead over Oak Hall eighth-grader Austin Montini with Saint Stephens' Henry Howell pulling up third. Coming out near the three-mile mark, LaBrant was way out in front of Montini and finished in 17:04.21, his third-best mark of the season and on one of the tougher courses the state has to offer.
"I wanted to go out hard, I knew I could hold them off," LaBrant said. "I wanted that regional title."
LaBrant made it his first regional title and on the heels of getting so sick on Monday that he couldn't breathe through his nose. He actually ran a 16:50.60 at the Seffner Invite on the very same course but even fighting off the illness, LaBrant was able to power through for the title.
Montini took second with a 17:25.32, just over three seconds off his PR from this season. Montini also made states as a sixth and seventh-grader.
Oak Hall with Monitni's and Collin Kanes second and 10th-place finishes helped push them just past Saint Stephens and Howell 97-100 for the regional title and a sweep of the team trophies.