BRADENTON -- Canaan Meester-Kitterman says he is back.
Anyone who was at the inaugural IMG Academy Cross Country Invitational would find it hard to dispute the Bayshore High standout.
After a slow start this season, Meester-Kitterman won the boys race and was the only runner to finish under 17 minutes, crossing the line in 16:59.30.
Meester-Kitterman changed his training during the summer, gearing for more short-distance running and says it hurt him for the 3.1-mile cross-country events.
But he is getting back to form.
Saturday's win was his first of the year.
"The course is hard. There is lots of sand, and it tires your legs out," Meester-Kitterman said. "It feels good to get my first win, but I am more excited for pre-states next week. I am getting there. My time today was good for a slow course. I am where I wanted to be so far. I expected to do well."
The surprise of the day might have been provided by Lauren Csubak. The Saint Stephen's senior hadn't recorded a top five finish all season before winning the girls race in 20:38.20, a good distance ahead of second-place Julia Ortiz (20:47.60) of Lakewood Ranch.
Csubak had to leave immediately after the race to participate in the Tampa Bay Classic swim meet in St. Petersburg.
"I knew I could do it and it would happen sooner or later. It feels really great to win. It gives me confidence and helps me in future races," Csubak said. "This is my second year doing cross country. I always did track and swam full time, but now swimming takes a back seat to cross country."
One thing that didn't change was the success of the Lakewood Ranch girls cross country team. Despite missing four of their top five runners due to academic commitments, the Mustangs won the girls race, edging Braden River 46-48.
Lakewood Ranch had three girls finish in the top 10. Andrea McDonald was third (21:35.30) and Sara Kelly fifth (22:42.10). Braden River's Asia Borman was fourth (22:02.90).
"It was great. The course was kind of slow, but a lot of our top runners were taking the SATs, so it kind of gave our other runners a chance to see how it feels to be up in the front," Lakewood Ranch girls coach Kristina Bratton said. "Julia did well. She is starting to understand how to run cross country. With so many of our runners missing it shows we have potential and still have some girls who can rise to the occasion."
Ortiz was coming off a personal best last week and stayed with Csubak for a good part of the race.
"It was a really slow course, so you have to expect a different time. Lauren was ahead for about three-quarters of the race," Ortiz said. "I tried to get her at the end, but just couldn't do it. But the season is going good for me. I broke 20 (minutes) two weeks ago."
Lakewood Ranch (94) finished second in the boys race to Venice, which dominated the 12-team field with 27 points. George Dabbiero led the Mustangs with a fifth-place finish (18:27.80).