TAMPA — Every season for the past six years, the Sickles High boys and girls varsity cross country teams have traveled across the state to Titusville for a couple of “bonding days,” as Gryphons coach Dave Rittenour describes it.
Oh yes, there’s also a serious dose of running involved, namely at the FLRunners.com Invitational, where Sickles usually competes on the first of the two-day event.
This year featured another big Gyphons success, in both bonding and competition.
Running in Friday’s Large-School race, Sickles’ Abby Grant won the girls individual title in 19 minutes, 28.8 seconds and helped lead Sickles to a second-place finish with 112 points, 55 behind the winner, Winter Springs.
On the boys’ side, Gryphons sophomore James Zentmeyer won in 15:58.70 to become the first runner from Hillsborough County this season to break the 16-minute mark for a 5k. Teammate Faris Williams added a sixth-place effort in 16:59.80 and helped Sickles’ boys to third with 105 points, one behind second-place Winter Springs and only 13 behind the winner, Lake Highland Prep.
“It was the first race where we’ve really gone all out,” said Rittenour, who is strategic about when he has his team run hard in races. “It was all very encouraging. I couldn’t have been much more pleased.”
After the race, the Sickles teams ate a nice dinner, spent the night in a hotel near the beach, got up early and ran about eight miles, ate another good meal and came home.
“It’s something we look forward to every year,” Rittenour said.
Jesuit staying in stride
Jesuit ran without No. 1 runner Tim O’Loughlin (sore ankle) at Saturday’s FLRunners.com Invitational, but the Tigers still showed plenty of grit, taking ninth in the 38-team Invitational division.
Jesuit’s Phillip Robbins stepped in as the Tigers’ No. 1 and finished 24th with a solid time of 16:54.50. Tyler Pratt and Danny Alvarez ran No. 2 and No. 3 for Jesuit on Saturday and placed 57th and 58th, respectively, in 17:27.70 and 17:27.90. Jason Caldwell was the next Tiger at 17:35.80.
“Everybody ran well,” Jesuit coach Greg Maurin said. “It looks like we have a lot of good things to look forward to.”
O’Loughlin, who finished third overall in Class 2A as a junior last year, is expected to return as strong as ever in the next few weeks.
“We just didn’t want to risk an injury at this point in the season,” Maurin said.
Heading into the back stretch
Before area teams begin their sprint through districts (Oct. 21-26), regionals (Oct. 31-Nov. 2) and into the state finals Nov. 9 in Tallahassee, there are several key meets to keep an eye on.
The first notable one is Saturday’s Land O’ Lakes Gator Invitational, where more than 30 schools will be represented in both the boys and girls divisions. After that, it’s the Pre-State meet in Tallahassee Oct. 11-12 and the Hillsborough County Championships Oct. 18.
Sprinkled in the mix are Saturday’s Don Bishop Invitational at Brandon and the Millard Shumate Invitational at Picnic Island. Both of those meets feature more than 25 teams from the Tampa Bay area.