BRADENTON -- About a year ago, Grace Casagrande had to choose between distance running and soccer, two sports she loved.
The Cardinal Mooney standout went with running and proved again it was a wise decision by winning her second consecutive Bradenton Runners Club Invitational on Saturday at G.T. Bray park.
Casagrande did it in grand style, turning in a time of 19 minutes, 22.78 seconds for the 3.1-mile run. She easily outdistanced the field and bettered the time of 21:25 she ran last year.
Sage Lyons, of Sarasota, finished a distant second (20:05.30). The top female runner from Manatee County was Julia Ortiz of Lakewood Ranch, who placed fifth overall (20:51.18).
"I chose running because it is more of an individual sport," Casagrande said. "I always played soccer and knew I had some running talent and started running as a freshman. I got more serious about it my junior year and decided to focus just on that. It's very individual, and you know if you push yourself and do your all you will see the results."
Casagrande finished fourth last week in the prestigious Fort Myers Optimist Invitational. This time she led from almost the outset, set her own pace and was never seriously challenged.
"I thought I would win, but not by this much. I am happy with it," Casagrande said. "I like this course. It is really flat, and runners usually have pretty good times on this course. This is a good race for my confidence. I feel I can drop my time as the season goes on."
The Lakewood Ranch girls finished second with 67 points to Sarasota (27). Andrea McDonald (20:53.93) was second for the Mustangs and sixth overall.
Michelle Last (21:43.27) placed third for Ranch (21:43.27) and 14th overall and Elizabeth Chandler (22:36.46) was fourth and 21st overall.
"It was good a race for the girls. Katie Wray, who has had some problems with asthma, didn't finish, and she is usually our top runner," Lakewood Ranch coach Brian Thomas said. "Julia stepped up, and we had some decent depth with Michelle and Elizabeth, Sara Kelly and Emily Perez. We finished fifth out of 37 at Fort Myers and were sixth out of 31 at Estero the week before."
The only other Manatee County female runners in the top 20 were Manatee High's Katie Lanphere (18th) and Asia Borman (17th) from Braden River. Manatee finished fifth in the 11-team girls field, and Braden River was seventh.
Bayshore's Canaan Meester-Kitterman, who won this event the past two years, placed seventh overall, which was the highest among the Manatee County boys. Cardinal Mooney's Turner Davidson placed fifth. Zackery Summerall of Sarasota won the boys race in 15:52.40.
Meester-Kitterman ran a 16:27 last year and a 16:29.27 in winning the race as a sophomore in 2011. This year he finished with a time of 16:54.18.
"I am training differently. I am doing a lot more shorter distance running like the mile and don't have the base I had last year," Meester-Kitterman said. "Last year, I did about 500 miles during the summer. I didn't even come close to that this summer, and I have some congestion problems. But I will be all right. I expect my time to come down."
Lakewood Ranch had the best finish among the Manatee County boy's teams, placing fourth behind champion Sarasota, Riverview and Venice. The Mustangs were led by Mitch Arnold, who was 10th overall (17:16.08). George Dabbiero placed 14th overall for the Mustangs.