Virtual meet preview and projections for this weekend's North Port Invitational at North Port High School. MileSplit will be on site with race video and interview coverage by Mark Stonecipher and photo coverage by Bernie von Dauber.
The Indian Rocks Christian boys are the two-time defending 1A state champions and won last year's North Port Invitational with a team score of 81 points and margin of 80 points. Expect a similar dominant showing from their crew with several of their top runners pressing to go sub 16 minutes together including Blake Young, Jonah Berry, Nicholas Zamora, and Aidan Griffin.
Cambridge Christian is coming off a runner-up finish at the 3D Distance Classic, while Palmetto Ridge was a runner-up to Naples two weeks ago at the DDD Sommer Invitational and won last week's SFCA King's Invitational as two other teams that could finish among the top 3. Newsome was also not far behind Cambridge Christian by only 19 points with their fourth place showing at the Little Everglades Ranch last Saturday and will be racing at North Port.
The boys race individually looks to have Berkeley Prep junior Liam Jordan as the strong favorite, especially after rolling to a new 5K PR of 15:24 last weekend at the adidas XC Challenge. Jordan is the top returnee from last year's race when he finished fourth with a time of 15:51 at the 2022 North Port Invite.
Northeast's Eli Zuppa won the Seffner Christian Invitational two weeks ago with a strong time at Holloway Park of 16:15 before running a new 5K best of 15:46 at the Green Devil Invite. He will look to close the gap between himself and Liam Jordan that existed in their season opener head to head race at the Babe Zaharias Twilight Challenge in August.
Both Hector Toro of Naples and William Montanye of Gulf Coast broke 16 minutes and finished inside the top 10 at last year's North Port Invitational just behind top returnee Jordan.
Toro is on a torrid streak of wins including 3 straight invitational victories after starting his season with a runner-up finish at the Dunbar Tiger Jamboree. Montanye, who ran personal bests of 4:17 for 1600 meters and 9:17 for 3200 meters, won the SFCA King's Invitational last weekend in a season best time of 16 minutes.
Other runners to watch in the boys race including all of Indian Rocks Christian's top 4 especially Blake Young, Caden Baker of George Jenkins, and Christian Escribano of Cambridge Christian. Baker was a runner-up to Jordan at Babe Zaharias, while Escribano broke 16 minutes last week for the first time at Little Everglades Ranch.
The top two teams from last weekend's 3D Distance Classic at Little Everglades Ranch appear to be the top two teams to compete again this weekend at the North Port Invitational in last year's 3A state champions Osceola (Seminole) and last year's 1A state runners-up Cambridge Christian.
Both teams are rebounding from losses from their 2022 lineups with Osceola due to graduation and Cambridge due to transfers or departures including last year's individual race champion and meet record breaker Eliana Black who is now at IMG Academy. IMG Academy boys are entered at North Port, but their girls are not so appears we will not see Black racing against her former team this weekend.
Osceola and Cambridge Christian both have two strong individuals up front for them between Avery Latto and Elle Mehltretter for Osceola then Ava Hendrix and Hannah Kasper for Cambridge Christian. Latto won the 3D Distance Classic last weekend in a 18:34 best to help lead her squad to a 40 point team win over Cambridge Christian.
Not far behind Cambridge in third and fourth place last weekend will be two squads also racing at North Port this Saturday looking to move themselves up into a top two finish between Wiregrass Ranch and Newsome.
A brand new school in Aubrey Rogers High School opening this fall down in Naples has shown themselves to be competitively quickly in their inaugural season against other top Southwest Florida teams such as Naples High School. They were runners-up to Naples at the Fort Myers Invitational two Saturdays ago by only 17 points. Both teams will be competing at North Port.
Bishop Verot will be interesting to see how they match up against other top teams in Southwest Florida after they traveled out of the area to compete at the Cecil Field Summer Classic in Jacksonville then the Hawks on the Hill Invitational in Clermont.
The always well packed squad of Plant should also be in the mix for a top 5 finish or better at North Port. Their season opening race at Babe Zaharias Twilight Challenge finished only 33 points behind Osceola in third place behind them and defending 1A state champions Oak Hall School.
The biggest storyline or excitement for this year's North Port Invitational will be the girls individual battle up front in the elite race with arguably all of Southwest Florida's fastest in attendance between Addison Dempsey of Cardinal Mooney, Mackenzie De Lisle of Bishop Verot, and Ansley Kelly of Riverdale.
There will definitely be some Tampa area runners also in the mix to contend including Latto and Mehltretter of Osceola, Hendrix and Kasper of Cambridge Christian, and Hannah Latif of Berkeley Prep among others, but we might see 3 girls break 18 minutes at North Port between Dempsey, De Lisle, and Kelly. Latif was a runner-up at the Florida Horse Park Invitational over Labor Day weekend.
Both Dempsey and De Lisle have already done it this season with Dempsey running a state leading season best time of 17:38 last weekend at the adidas XC Challenge in North Carolina while she ran her 5K PR of 17:29 on the North Port High School course last October in her district meet.
De Lisle scored a huge win to start her season at the Cecil Field Summer Classic in 18:12 before running a cross country 5K best of 17:52 in a runner-up showing to Annabella Tomasic at the Hawks on the Hill Invite two weekends ago.
The 2A state title this fall will definitely be a three way power struggle between last year's state runner-up Dempsey, De Lisle, and the 7th grader Tomasic (not racing at North Port). This Saturday will be the first time that Dempsey and De Lisle have raced head to head this season.
Meanwhile, Ansley Kelly is at a 4A school in Riverdale High School and little bit more under the radar than the other two top entrants despite having broken 11 minutes for 3200 meters last spring (10:57 at FSU Relays). Kelly has won her first two races of the season with an 18:18 PR at the Lehigh Lightning Invitational followed by another win at the Fort Myers Invite in 18:55.
She shares the top time in the 4A classification with Alyson Johnson of Creekside with her 18:18 season best, so her path to a state title is little less crowded than Dempsey and De Lisle in 2A.
Another runner to watch in the field who has been relatively quiet to start this season in regards to posting a fast time yet is North Port's own in sophomore and returning All-State performer Malia Hambrick. Hambrick ran 18:29 as a freshmen last year for 5K and was the 4A state runner-up at 800 meters last spring with a 2:15 best. She was a distant runner-up to Dempsey at the Lemon Bay Invitational (19:46), but should be ready to run a time well in the 18 minute range this weekend on her home course.
Avery Latto of Osceola though might be the runner in the field with the best chance to break up a projected top 3 of Dempsey, De Lisle, and Kelley after her sensational 18:34 PR win at Little Everglades Ranch last week which is not considered a super fast course like North Port. She could definitely press to run a time close to 18 minutes flat this weekend.