SARASOTA -- Grace Casagrande doesn't get intimidated when it comes to cross country.
Surrounded by a field of runners from bigger schools, the Cardinal Mooney senior left everyone in the dust to win the female division of the inaugural Tri-County Cross Country Championship on Thursday at the Bobby Jones Golf Club.
Casagrande finished the 3.1-mile run in 19 minutes, 14.5 seconds, comfortably ahead of runner0up Angelina Grebe (19:42.4) from Sarasota.
"There were a lot of good runners here, but I felt that I was going to win," Casagrande said.
"It's a pretty big deal to win this with three counties. Last year, I didn't even win the Sarasota County meet. I was leading from about the start. It was a nice course. It was pretty flat, but it was so hot out there, and the grass was a little high."
The meet included teams from Manatee, Sarasota and
Charlotte counties. Sarasota won the male and female overall divisions.
Lakewood Ranch had the best scores among Manatee County schools in the male and female divisions.
"I've won all but two races I was in this year, but those were where I got my personal records," Casagrande said. "I was pretty feeling confident coming into this race. The Sarasota girls were the toughest competition. I beat them this year so I was definitely the favorite, but you never know what can happen."
The top female runner from Manatee County was Lakewood Ranch's Julia Ortiz, who placed ninth overall (20:58.60), ahead of Saint Stephen's Lauren Csubak, who was 10th (21:02.10).
Lakewood Ranch had four runners in the top 20: Andrea McDonald was 15th (21:28.90), Michelle Last 18th (21:43.20) and Emily Perez 19th (21:44.90).
This meet was nearly two decades in the making, said Brian Thomas, Lakewood Ranch's longtime cross country coach.
"About 20 years ago when I was at Southeast, Jason Means (Riverview head coach) and I talked about combining our county meets. Our kids saw our (individual) county meets as not being very competitive. The kids would run in big meets all year and then go into a county meet, and it was a downer for them. It took a long time to do this because of tradition. We are not sure what will happen in the future."
Bayshore's Canaan Meester-Kitterman finished third overall in the boys race (16:25.90) and had the highest finish among the Manatee County males. The Lakewood Ranch boys were first among Manatee County teams and finished sixth overall.
Lakewood Ranch's top finisher was Mitch Arnold, who placed 10th overall and second among Manatee County runners (17:34.00). Cardinal Mooney's Cal Turner Davidson was fifth overall and third in Sarasota County (17:02.40).
The only other overall top 25 finisher from Manatee County in the boys race was Lakewood Ranch's George Dabbiero, who placed 15h and was third among Manatee County boys (17:50.8)
"I am pleased. It will be the third year in a row we won the boys and girls Manatee County race," Thomas said. "We've been dominant this season, so we expected to do well here. Our third runner (Josh Napier) was injured and didn't run. Our goal for the boys is to get back to states, but it's going to be tough."