For the first time in history, the FHSAA state cross country finals will be less than five hours away from Pensacola.
That bodes well for the seven area teams and three individuals who will be competing for a state title in classes 3A, 2A and 1A on Saturday.
For the past seven seasons, local athletes and teams have had to make a 434-mile drive to Dade City for the state championships. Before that, it was a nine-hour trek to Tampa.
But this year, athletes have the luxury of a much shorter trip to Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.
"That's awesome for Pensacola teams," said West Florida coach Jeff Oliver, who will be taking his boys and girls squads to Tallahassee to compete in the Class 2A meet. "The teams in this area, we've suffered greatly from having to travel down south for state. You've got higher temperatures down there, the drive that you have to make -- every year, runners would get there and then they would struggle.
"As long as I've been a coach, I've never found a good way to travel across the state."
The Jaguars' boys and girls will be joined at state by the Washington High boys, Catholic boys and girls, Jay girls and Pensacola Christian boys. Pace's Rachel Kling, Jay's Micah Kemp and Pensacola Christian's Lauren Cochran also will be there competing as individuals.
"For northern Florida teams, having the state meet in Tallahassee is a blessing," Oliver said. "Now, Miami teams have to travel. But we love it."
Before moving the state meet to Tallahassee, the closest its come to Pensacola was Gainesville at the University of Florida. But the meet hasn't been there since 1965. The state finals also were held in Jacksonville, which is more than 350 miles away, from 1990-98.
West Florida boys win trophy
The West Florida High boys cross country team came away from the Region 1-2A meet at Sunny Hill Farms with a runner-up finish, a spot in the Class 2A meet and -- for the first time ever -- a trophy.
"It's the first trophy we've gotten at regionals," Oliver said. "It was a special moment for the team. We ran as well as we could, and we lost to the best team in the state (Bishop Kenny)."
The Jaguars were led by senior Alec Clark, who finished the 3.1-mile course as the runner-up in 16 minutes, 29.77 seconds. Clark was followed by junior Mark Sortino (13th, 17:13.56), freshman Dylan Wakefield (18th, 17:29.42), freshman Alexander Bullock (20th, 17:32.42), senior David Wright (30th, 18:00.37), junior Garrett Diamond (42nd, 18:16.47) and sophomore Seth Modin (56th, 18:51.57).
Wakefield and Bullock were the second- and third-fastest freshmen at the meet, Oliver said.
The Jaguars' girls finished third overall, while the Catholic boys and girls finished fourth and fifth, respectively, to earn a spot at state.
PHS, Pine Forest top 1-6A rivalry
The high school girls basketball season started Monday, and all eyes will be on Pensacola High and Pine Forest.
Last year, dozens of college scouts turned out for the regular-season games between the two stellar area programs. When the game was at Pine Forest, some fans had to be turned away because the gym was filled to capacity.
The Eagles and Tigers tout some of the area's top talent, and it shows when the two teams meet on the court. The games usually are epic. When they played for the District 1-6A championship last year, the game went to double-overtime before the Tigers pulled out a 71-68 victory.
The Eagles return all five of their starters this season, including senior Jayla King, who will sign a scholarship with the University of South Florida on Wednesday.
The Tigers -- who have made the state Final Four in six of the past seven seasons, including three appearances in the state championship game -- return standouts Chelsey Gibson and Kayla Thompson.
"We struggled against Pine Forest last year, and this year, we have just two returning starters," PHS coach Alison Davis said. "So, they'll be a team we'll definitely have to work hard against this year."
For Pine Forest coach Chris Godwin and the Eagles, last year's games against the Tigers were a learning experience. They look to apply those lessons this year.
"What's good about our district is that it does what it's supposed to do -- get teams ready for the playoffs," Godwin said. "There are three or four teams in our district who really prepare you for what's down the road."
The Tigers and Eagles will meet for the first time this season on Dec. 14 at PHS. Their second game will be on Jan. 18 at Pine Forest.