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Cross country preview: Pinellas County

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cross country preview: Pinellas County

September 11, 2012 | Bob Putnam

The moment that set the stage for what figures to be one of the most competitive girls cross country seasons in history began, appropriately enough, with the opening of a door. A car door.

When former Northside Christian star Katelyn Greenleaf got in her car and drove to the University of Alabama, it gave everyone behind her a chance to be No. 1.

Greenleaf was the Times’ cross country runner of the year the past four seasons and never lost to a county opponent during her high school career. Now that she has left, a slew of runners are on the brink of prominence.

The runner with the best shot at rocketing to the top is Alex Eaton, who transferred from St. Petersburg to Shorecrest. The junior was overshadowed by Greenleaf and Osceola’s Alexis Irwin (another graduate) the past two seasons despite placing in the top two at conference and district meets. At last week’s Seffner Christian Invitational, Eaton sprinted to the lead and never looked back, winning in 19 minutes, 23.70 seconds — the best time in the county so far.

By joining the Chargers, Eaton also shifted the balance of power. Shorecrest has a solid lineup that includes Olivia Rovin, Savannah Broome and Kai Greenlees. It is enough to consider the Chargers the favorite at the private school level, especially after Northside Christian lost most of its top runners. Indian Rocks Christian also figures to be in the mix.

"A lot changes with Katelyn around,” Shorecrest coach Jeff Raab said. "We have a pretty solid lineup that I think has a chance to contend.”

As far as county public school girls, there is so much parity that as many as five teams have a shot at the title. The front-runners are Largo, Northeast, Palm Harbor University, St. Petersburg and Seminole.

The county boys also are dealing with a sense of loss. Seminole graduated six of its top eight runners, including Jacob Hudak, the Times’ boys runner of the year last season. Still, the Warhawks’ have the kind of depth other programs envy and were able to reload. At last week’s Green Devil Invitational, Seminole won the boys title, beating St. Petersburg 26-36. The Green Devils return six of their top seven runners and will challenge Seminole throughout the season.

Clearwater Central Catholic, St. Petersburg Catholic, Shore­crest and Indian Rocks Christian figure to be among the top private school boys teams.

Boys to watch

Ross Porter, Shorecrest: Could be the county’s top private school runner, especially after placing second at the Seffner Invitational.

Girls to watch

Alex Eaton, Shorecrest: Emerged as the runner to beat after winning Seffner Christian Invitational.

Hannah Palm, Keswick Christian: Veteran runner will stay with Eaton, Olivia Rovin and others in lead pack at private school meets.

Olivia Rovin, Shorecrest: Finished seventh at Seffner Invitational and will stay with Eaton at the front of most races.

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