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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Nature Coast set to battle South Sumter


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District championships have become a near fact of life for the Nature Coast track program the past few years.

Over the previous six seasons, the Nature Coast boys have collected four titles and one runner-up trophy.

The last two years, the Lady Sharks have joined them in toting home their district's heaviest hardware.

Though the district alignment has once again changed, the hope is to maintain that established standard of success at the Class 2A, District 7 Meet at Central today.

"We'd love to keep that tradition going," Nature Coast boys coach Eric Milholland said. "We have to fight for every single point in order for it to happen."

The meet, which will also feature the host Bears plus Crystal River, Gulf, Hernando, Hudson, Pasco, Ridgewood, South Sumter, Weeki Wachee and Wesley Chapel, begins with field events at 1 p.m., followed by the 4x800 at 1:30 p.m. and running prelims at 4 p.m.

Finals begin 45 minutes after the completion of prelims.

Those who finish in the top four in each event advance to the 2A-Region II Meet at Orlando-First Academy next Wednesday.

On paper - more precisely, a computerized virtual meet - Nature Coast is running second to South Sumter on the boys side coming into this meet.

Interestingly, the Sharks have finished higher than the Raiders on two occasions thus far, at the season-opening Nature Coast Early Bird Meet on Feb. 11 and Tavares' Bulldog Invitational on Feb. 28.

A short-handed Nature Coast squad also attended South Sumter's Raider Invitational over spring break last month, with the host Raiders winning the meet while the Sharks finished a distant fourth.

According to the virtual meet, South Sumter should have a 20-point edge.

"South Sumter made major improvements a few weeks ago," Milholland said. "We've got to get as many firsts, seconds and thirds as we can. . Instead of getting one place, get multiple places."

Milholland believes the Raiders have the slight advantage in sprints and field events, but that the Sharks can make up the difference in distance.

"We're taking two approaches," Milholland said. "Yes, we want to win. I don't know if that'll happen or not, but we want to win. And second, get as many boys as we can to regionals . as many as we can take. I want the bus full when we go to regionals."

As for the Lady Sharks, the only meet they haven't won was when they took only a handful of girls to the Raider Invite.

Coming off a third county title in five years, Nature Coast has plenty of momentum, and coach Ryan Wilson is maintaining an inward focus.

"We're going in to perform well. I've been telling the girls all year this is what we've been working for, and now it's here," Wilson said. "You can't have any more bad days. They've got to make sure they stay focused and come (today) perform at their best.

"I'm only concerned with what I can control. I can't tell you who's going to challenge us. I just hope the girls perform well and let the chips fall where they fall."

Though he has previously coached the boys, Wilson wants to see the girls maintain their own level of excellence.

"Some have won it before. They kind of expect it," Wilson said. "The others I don't think know what it feels like, but they feed off the other kids. They don't really show it, but I know they want to win it. I can see it in their focus in practice every day."

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At a Glance

What - Class 2A, District 7 Meet

Who - Central, Crystal River, Gulf, Hernando, Hudson, Nature Coast, Pasco, Ridgewood, South Sumter, Weeki Wachee and Wesley Chapel

Where - Central's Bears' Den

When - Today: Field events at 1 p.m, 4x800 at 1:30 p.m. Running prelims are set for 4 p.m., and finals are 45 minutes after the conclusion of prelims.

At Stake - Team district championship; top four finishers in each event advance to 2A-Region II Meet Wednesday at Orlando-First Academy.

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