WEEKI WACHEE - On the eve of spring break, Nature Coast found itself going up against an old rival Thursday at Weeki Wachee.
The 11-team meet primarily comprised of squads from Hernando and Citrus counties was set up to replace Hernando High's annual Kiwanis Invitational, which was scrapped this year due to track disrepair at Tom Fisher Memorial Stadium.
One traditionally tough Pasco County program was also in attendance - Wiregrass Ranch, a former district rival of Nature Coast.
Based on past experience, both Shark head coaches were thrilled to vanquish a field that included the Bulls, as Nature Coast took first place on both the boys and girls sides.
For the boys, it was a bounce back from the previous Friday's season-worst fourth-place showing at the Anclote Sharks Invitational. They won for the fourth time in six meets.
With 144.50 points, Nature Coast came in well ahead of second-place Springstead with 95. Wiregrass Ranch finished a distant fourth at 86.
Hernando was seventh (39), Weeki Wachee eighth (37.50) and Central ninth (36).
"I think they did great," Nature Coast boys coach Eric Milholland said. "We kind of picked ourselves up and we really worked hard this week and we said we want to win Kiwanis; keep it going and the boys were fired up. I was real impressed with our efforts tonight. Much improved over last week.
"I don't even remember the last time we've beaten Wiregrass. It was nice to come in with Wiregrass being here, because they kicked our butts in a few areas and we beat them in a few areas. So it was nice to have that kind of quality."
Senior James Harkless paced the Sharks placing first in the 1,600 meter (4:45.48) and 800 (2:03.54).
Freshman Brian Haygood accounted for the team's only other individual victory, in the 200 (23.45), as Milholland pointed to Nature Coast's depth as keying the team win.
"When we get to districts here, that's really going to help us, because some of those teams are in here," Milholland said. "But competing against teams that are better than we are or as good as we are really brings us up."
Springstead senior Tyler Mahla, the Hernando Today Player of the Year in football as the Eagles' starting quarterback, showed off his athleticism taking both the 110 hurdles (16.10) and 300 hurdles (42.60).
Another Eagle senior, defending state champion Bobby Harris predictably captured the high jump with a 6-6, and Hernando High senior Connor Foradas came in first in the discus (137-7).
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Nature Coast's girls totaled 157.50 to best Lecanto in second with a 128.83 score and Wiregrass Ranch in third (99), as well as fifth-place Springstead (77), sixth-place Hernando (29), Central (ninth, 20.33) and Weeki Wachee (10th, 11).
Much as they did last season, the Lady Sharks have gotten off a blazing start, winning all six meets this year.
"For this being a meet going into spring break, it was hard to keep the kids focused because prom is coming up. But they came out here and did what they had to do," Nature Coast girls coach Ryan Wilson said.
"We saw Wiregrass was coming, we thought 'Oh no, here we go again' because we could never beat them in the past. . I think it's good for the confidence. The kids don't get it, but as a coach I get it. Wiregrass is a good program, and to be able to beat them and beat Lecanto and all the other teams out here, I think it's a big deal, especially leading into spring break and districts."
Sisters Alicia and Ashley Gentz garnered the top two spots in both sprints, with the senior Alicia edging her younger sibling in the 200, 26.69-26.70, after the sophomore Ashley had captured the 100, 12.73-12.81. Nature Coast also won the 4x100 in 49.71.
Much like their male counterparts, though, the Lady Sharks relied heavily on strength in numbers.
"I'm extremely happy," Wilson said. "They're actually exceeding my expectations. We're very deep with how many kids we have and everybody's pulling their weight."
Springstead actually pulled out more first places, starting with Florida International signee and state title contender Wilena Little taking the long jump with a 16-10 1/2.
Teammates Ty'Rhonza Harris (triple jump, 32-11) and Erin Blackwell (800, 2:26.64) added victories of their own, as did the 4x400 relay (4:14.34).
Jasha Patrick provided a first place for Hernando High in the 100 hurdles (16.48).
1. Nature Coast (NCT) 144.50, 2. Springstead (SPG) 95, 3. Crystal River (CR) 87, 4. Wiregrass Ranch (WGR) 86, 5. Citrus (CIT) 68, 6. Lecanto (LEC) 63, 7. Hernando (HER) 39, 8. Weeki Wachee (WW) 37.50, 9. Central (CEN) 36, 10. Bishop McLaughlin (BM) 4, 11. Seven Rivers Christian (SRC) 1
4x800 - 1. Crystal River 8:40.06, 2. Springstead 8:41.34
LJ - 1. Pouncey (CIT) 21-11, 3. Sheppard (CEN) 20-2
HJ - 1. Harris (SPG) 6-6
TJ - 1. Roessler (CR) 42-2, 3. Haygood (NCT) 40-4 3/4
SP - 1. Stoner (LEC) 48-1, 4. Foradas (HER) 42-9
DIS - 1. Foradas (HER) 137-7
PV - 1. Spivey (CR) 12-6, 5. Coleman (NCT) 10-0
1600 - 1. Harkless (NCT) 4:45.48
110 hurdles - 1. Mahla (SPG) 16.10
100 - 1. Tilman (WGR) 11.46, 2. Smith (NCT) 11.57
4x100 - 1. Wiregrass Ranch 44.06, 2. Nature Coast 44.21
400 - 1. Rice (LEC) 53.06, 2. Burkes (NCT) 54.53
300 hurdles - 1. Mahla (SPG) 42.60
800 - 1. Harkless (NCT) 2:03.54
200 - 1. Haygood (NCT) 23.45
3200 - 1. Harris (CR) 10:12.37, 2. Mulyck (NCT) 10:22.40
4x400 - 1. Wiregrass Ranch 3:37.67, 3. Weeki Wachee 3:49.62
1. Nature Coast (NCT) 157.50, 2. Lecanto (LEC) 128.83, 3. Wiregrass Ranch (WGR) 99, 4. Crystal River (CR) 80, 5. Springstead (SPG) 77, 6. Hernando (HER) 29, 7. Citrus (CIT) 27.33, 8. Bishop McLaughlin (BM) 22, 9. Central (CEN) 20.33, 10. Weeki Wachee (WW) 11, 11. Seven Rivers Christian (SRC) 5
4x800 - 1. Wiregrass Ranch 10:13.21, 2. Nature Coast 10:41.00
LJ - 1. Little (SPG) 16-10 1/2
HJ - 1. Nathe (BM) 5-2, 4. Z. Schmit (NCT) 4-10
TJ - 1. T. Harris (SPG) 32-11
SP - 1. Mancke (LEC) 33-10, 2. Jarque (NCT) 31-3
DIS - 1. Mancke (LEC) 105-6, 3. Plaugher (HER) 101-8
PV - 1. Clark (CR) 11-0, 5. Horn (NCT), VanQuelef (LEC) 7-0
1600 - 1. Farnsworth (LEC) 5:37.29, 5. Lacy (NCT) 5:54.31
100 hurdles - 1. Patrick (HER) 16.48
100 - 1. As. Gentz (NCT) 12.73
4x100 - 1. Nature Coast 49.71
300 hurdles - 1. VanQuelef (LEC) 49.96, 3. Patrick (HER) 50.87
400 - 1. VanQuelef (LEC) 1:02.08, 3. Harris (SPG) 1:03.20
800 - 1. Blackwell (SPG) 2:26.64
200 - 1. Al. Gentz (NCT) 26.69
3200 - 1. Farnsworth (LEC) 11:53.74, 2. Lacy (NCT) 12:35.16
4x400 - 1. Springstead 4:14.34