BRADENTON -- It was evident before Monday's Canes Classic 5K that new faces and fresh legs would end up finishing first.
Four-time defending men's champion Josh Sanchez milled through the crowd in beach shorts and sunglasses, recuperating from a hamstring injury that has kept him from running since early in the year.
Five-time women's champion Christa Benton-Stephens hasn't run here in three years, and standout Lakewood Ranch High cross-country runners Olivia Ortiz and Kristin Zarrella have left for college.
The races were wide open.
Former Bayshore High runner Michael Lamb saw his chance.
He led for most of the race, outlasting current Bruin Canaan Meester-Kitterman and recent Braden River graduate Matthew McFall and winning the overall title in 16 minutes, 55.9 seconds.
The winning time was more than a minute slower than the event record of 15:49.3 set by Sanchez last year.
Still, Lamb, the 23-year-old Bayshore graduate who has run Canes Classic every year since 2005, was thrilled with the victory.
"It gave me a little more confidence. It gave me a chance," Lamb said of Sanchez's absence. "It felt pretty good. It was a relief.
"First race of the season, it's a pretty good start. I'm looking forward to October and November, when it gets cooler, for some better times."
Meester-Kitterman, who said he battled the lingering effects of strep throat, finished second in 17:30.6. McFall was third in 17:37.2.
In the women's race, Diana Sitar, a 27-year-old wellness specialist at the School District of Manatee County, cruised to victory in 19:51.9. Sixteen-year-old Donia Nichols placed second in 20:03.04, and 43-year-old Fernanda Scalera was third in 20:54.3.
"The first race of the season, I was just trying my best," said Sitar, a former University of West Florida runner who competed in her second Canes Classic. "This is more of a cross country course than a normal flat 5K course. I like this race. The high school kids are out, and they cheer you on."
A Labor Day tradition, the 21st annual Canes Classic 5K boasted 226 runners and was held under sunny skies and warm temperatures Monday morning. A rainstorm disrupted the awards ceremony and set the runners scrambling under the cover of the amphitheater.
The event, which also featured a 1K fun run, is a fundraiser for the Manatee High cross-country program and traditionally serves as an unofficial start to the high school cross-country season. The number of prep runners was down this year, though, because the state opened the cross-country season a week earlier than usual. Lakewood Ranch and Manatee competed Saturday.
"Monday is usually a slow, easy day in training," race organizer and former Manatee coach Tom Orehowsky said. "But the overall perspective was it was another well run race to kick off the cross-country season."
John Maraia won the men's masters title in 19:15.4, Steve Karpacs took the grand masters crown in 20:38.1, Raymond Green claimed the senior grand masters trophy in 25:17.5, and Richard Quevillon won the veteran grand masters title in 26:06.8.
Scalera won the women's masters title, Mary Quinn took the grand masters crown in 24:05.3, Ellen Jaffe Jones claimed the senior grand masters trophy in 32:22.5, and Maria Georgiev won the veteran grand masters title in 33:15.2.