A remarkable number of 7 girls broke 18 minutes at the North Port Invitational's elite race on Saturday morning led by race winner and state leader Addison Dempsey in a 17:20 personal best performance.
The senior from Cardinal Mooney was able to pull away from a truly elite field to win by a margin of 21 seconds with one of her top challengers for the 2A state title in Bishop Verot junior Mackenzie De Lisle finishing second place in a 17:41 personal best.
Both girls had broken 18 minutes in several races before, but five others joined them in the sub 18 minute club for the first time including Osceola senior Avery Latto (3rd, 17:48), Lehigh senior Gianna Del Pizzo (4th, 17:50), Oasis sophomore Jazlyn Forbes (5th, 17:56), Cambridge Christian senior Hannah Kasper (6th, 17:57), and Riverdale senior Ansley Kelly (7th, 17:58).
Sienna Audrey, a sophomore at Community School of Naples, just missed being the 8th runner under 18 minutes in the race with a time of 18:00.89 for eight place.
It was a close girls team battle between last year's 3A state champions Osceola (1st, 91 pts) and last year's 1A state runners-up Cambridge Christian (2nd, 93 pts), while Newsome was a distance third place with 21 points.
Osceola had 3 girls under 19 minutes with Latto, Elle Mehltretter (9th, 18:06), and Heloise Pinto (20th, 18:56) with Lilly Joseph (28th, 19:25) and Iosbel Benoit (47th, 19:52) rounding out their team scoring to take home the first place trophy at North Port after being a runner-up squad in 2021 and 2022 to Cambridge Christian.
Cambridge was much competitively closer to Osceola than they were last week at the 3D Distance Classic led by top 15 finishers Kasper (6th, 17:57) and Ava Hendrix (12th, 18:35) then their remaining scorers Micah Friedman (27th, 19:17), Kaiya Budwick (32nd, 19:35), and Amirah Johnson (35th, 19:38) all stepping up with season best races.
The Indian Rocks Christian boys came into the meet as the favorites as the defending meet champions and arguably the #2 ranked team in the state, but turns out they were racing without two of their top five runners in Nicholas Zamora (16:07 season best) and Ethan Esposito (16:37). Without the luxury of much depth beyond their top 5, Indian Rocks Christian ended up finishing sixth place in 246 points.
A consolation though for Indian Rocks Christian was the individual victory and performance by their top runner in Blake Young as he was able to pull away from a top group that included teammate Aidan Griffin (3rd, 15:29) and Naples senior Hector Toro (2nd, 15:25) and Northeast senior Eli Zuppa (15:31).
Young and Spanish River Invitational runner-up Henry Stark of Palmer Trinity School (15:05 performance on Friday) appear to be on a collision course at Apalachee Regional Park in November for the 1A state title. Hopefully, the rest of Young's teammates will be present and healthy as well for their team to pursue a third straight state title.
Toro led the Naples boys to an impressive team win against not only a short-handed Indian Rocks Christian squad, but a dominant team win against the rest of the 24 schools in the elite boys field with their team score of 74 points and clocking a team average of 15:56.
Belen Jesuit is all but certain to be state champions in 3A, but Naples could possibly step up to take over as the state runners-up in the classification that rival school Fort Myers has held down the last two years.
Naples had three runners break 16 minutes in race runner-up Toro, Jack Marshall (15th, 15:57) and Reece Lolly (17th, 15:58), while #4 and #5 runners Matthew Damouni (25th, 16:08) and Michael Brewer (27th, 16:10) were not far behind with their top 30 finishes.
The depth of fast times was strong in the elite boys race as well with a total of 19 runners dipping under 16 minutes.