For a nine-year stretch - circa 2002 through 2011- Springstead's boys weightlifters served as the dominant force in Hernando County. Seven county championship banners attested to their success.
But across the past two springs, Hernando, behind two different mentors (John Palmer and Mark Latsko), has been the major force locally - capturing back-to-back county titles.
At approximately 3:30 p.m. today at the Springstead gymnasium, the Leopards mettle will be severely tested in their three-peat bid during the 16th annual Hernando County Boys Weightlifting Championship Meet.
The meet includes all five county programs including: Central, Hernando, Nature Coast, Weeki Wachee and host Springstead.
Each team is limited to 15 lifters. Only the top six lifters score points based on 7-5-4-3-2-1 system.
Despite a pair of back-to-back county and district crowns over 2012-13, the Purple and Gold lifters are not the favorites.
HHS' third mentor in three seasons, Mike Einspahr, arrives 4-5 overall. This season's Leopards have dropped dual meets to Weeki Wachee (47-42) and Springstead (49-35).
Of the Purple and Gold's four county champs in 2013, only one returns: senior Jesse Gaudin at 238 pounds.
Ironically, Gaudin doesn't possess his team's highest total at 238; that belongs to senior Brandon Laursen with a 535-pound total. Laursen placed third last spring, 30 pounds behind Gaudin's winning total.
HHS will arrive led by senior and 2012 state qualifier David Goodwin at 139 and junior Dylan Moore at 169.
Moore should expect a dog fight against NCT's DeShawn Smith and possibly Springstead's Dan Fazio. The trio is separated by 15 pounds.
Goodwin was crushed in last year's meet by NCT's Ryan Stevens by 30 pounds. Stevens, however, hasn't competed in a meet this season.
"We've got some kids and if things break the right way, we could be in the thick of it," explained Coach Einspahr, who was hired at Hernando after four seasons at Central.
One critical issue is the timing of the meet. In general, spring break couldn't have come at a worse time, negating any momentum generated prior to last week.
"We had tremendous momentum heading into spring break," noted Einspahr. "Coming back after a week off is certainly a challenge. I think any time you go out of your routine, there are many questions."
On the pressure of three-peating, "I wasn't a part of the last two seasons," pointed out Einspahr. "We're a little shallow in the upper weights, but we've picked up some guys in the middle."
On HHS' goal, "We may not have many first-placers across the board, but we've got a shot," detailed Einspahr. "The purpose of this meet is to keep getting better toward the state series."
Einspahr made no bones as to who's favored.
"Springstead," he said. "They have more upperclassmen. If Springstead had (Jesse) Cowan (wrist surgery/out for the season), they'd be shoo-ins. Right now, both Weeki Wachee and us are pretty even."
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Springstead arrives with a county-best 7-1 slate, featuring a perfect 6-0 run versus its county brethren.
The Eagles are seeking their eighth county title behind two defending county champions: seniors Steven Torres at 119 and Austin Stock at 183.
Stock, who has successfully alternated between 183 and 199 pounds, leads all county lifters with a season-high 585-pound total.
Additionally, junior Geoffrey Boettjer at 129 and senior Michael Miara at heavyweight are the leading candidates for gold medals.
Four others expected to finish among the top three include Fazio, a junior, at either 154 or 169, along with junior Dylan McLeod at 199, and seniors Nathaniel Walker at 219 and Jameson Peppe at 238.
"Spring break didn't help us," declared veteran SHS skipper Mike Garofano. "I'll be honest; I don't know right now which 15 guys we're going to have in the lineup."
The 11th-year mentor stressed that his team needs all 15 lifters to score points.
"We can't afford a repeat of last season," said Garofano, when SHS narrowly lost by six points when key lifters scratched out. "The biggest lesson learned is I can't run the meet and judge at the same time; that's not happening again."
On forecasting the meet, "Our goal is to have all of our kids score - that's priority No. 1," emphasized Garofano. "Secondly, we need to get as many first-placers as we can. That's seven points per champion - that's a lot of points.
"When you have five teams, it'll be tight," shared Garofano. "There's not much room for error. Going in, I'd say we're the favorites though Weeki Wachee and Hernando have a good shot."
Weeki Wachee has slowly ascended up the county ladder.
After back-to-back fifth-place finishes in 2011-12, the Hornets improved to fourth last season.
In 2013, WWHS enjoyed its first-ever county champion in Thomas Maynard at 154.
Though Maynard graduated, the 4-2 Hornets have retained some firepower with senior and county leader Anthony Hartman at 219, senior Anthony Dinardo at 183 and junior Dakota Johnson at 129.
Dinardo, a Class 1A state qualifier in 2013, was beaten by 40 pounds by Stock last year.
Johnson, the top seed in his weight class last season, failed to make weight.
Fourth-year Hornet mentor Mark Lee points to Springstead as the team to beat.
"They have to be the favorites," reminded Lee. "They've got some depth and they've got by far the strongest kids."
On the Hornets' chances, "I expect Dinardo, Hartman and Johnson to be in a position to win," detailed Lee. "Beating Stock will be tough. But we also need some big points from Shawn (O'Gorman) and Xavier (Jones)."
In analyzing the meet, "Last year was extremely close because a lot of weird stuff happened," pointed out Lee. "When guys don't make weight, guys scratch out and guys don't do what they've done all year - the door is opened. We've got to do what we know we can do and we need a couple record performances."
According to Lee, spring break's timing wasn't a major issue.
"The majority of our guys got their lifts in during the break," Lee said. "If weightlifting is really important, they came in."
The Hornets' goal is to continue the climb.
"I like the fact that our kids are expecting to do better," said Lee. "We're not just spectators any more. By getting involved, our kids are trying to be placers."
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In a year's time, Central has had three different coaches guide its boys weightlifting fortunes.
The Bears, who three-peated in this event from 1999-01, last hoisted a county title in 2007 behind current Green Bay Packer DuJuan Harris.
CHS, which placed fifth last spring behind county champions Gio Squartino and Alex Sprinkle, arrives winless at 0-8.
Upon closer inspection, first-year skipper Chris Sands, the school's new varsity football coach, does have some hammers.
The Brooksville crew's lifters include two current Honor Roll leaders in seniors Austin Asher at 154 and Anderson Ramsey at 238.
Two others, including junior Ayyob Dahmash at 129 and William Levandowski at 139, could also factor into the scoring hierarchy.
"We've got a couple of guys who could compete (for a title)," noted Coach Sands. "We've also got a few others that we think will do well.
"On Wednesday, it's all about the competition. We've had kids go up in their totals, but it's tough in a meet like this when we're down in numbers."
On the meet's timing, "It's tough coming off spring break, but it's the same for everyone," said Sands. "Hopefully, our guys have worked out on their own."
Forecasting the meet, "Springstead has a full roster; they're able to get points in every weight class," said Sands. "We never lifted against Hernando, so they're an unknown.
"We don't have the numbers to compete against Springstead, so it'll be hard to beat them," added Sands. "Our goal is to go out and compete and see what we can achieve."
Nature Coast (1-3) is also on its third coach in one year. The Sharks, who placed third last season, have never won this event.
At a Glance
What - 16th annual Hernando County Boys Weightlifting Championship Meet.
Who - Central, Hernando, Nature Coast, Weeki Wachee and host Springstead. Hernando is the two-time defending tourney champ.
Where - Springstead's gym
When - Today, weigh-ins from 2-3 p.m. Meet expected to begin at approximately 3:30 p.m. across five platforms.
At Stake - Top six lifters score points based on 7-5-4-3-2-1 system. The top lifter in each of the 10 weight divisions crowned county champ. Winning team tabbed county champion.
All-Time Hernando County Boys Weightlifting Championships
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YEAR TEAM PTS
1999 Central NA
2000 Central 48.0
2001 Central NA
2002 Springstead 42.0
2003 Hernando 42.0
2004 Springstead 53.0
2005 Hernando 55.0
2006 Springstead 50.0
2007 Central 50.0
2008 Springstead 57.0
2009 Springstead 51.0
2010 Springstead 55.0
2011 Springstead 83.0
2012 Hernando 68.0
2013 Hernando 56.0