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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

New twist on county track meet


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With district meets looming just a week away for some schools, local squads will all converge for one last time to determine the county championship.

They just won't be alone.

Today, Central, Hernando, Nature Coast, Springstead and Weeki Wachee will be joined by Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto for the Hernando/Citrus Championship, at Weeki Wachee's Hornets Nest.

Not only is this a departure from the previous format of simply the Hernando County teams competing alone, it's also a last-minute change of venue.

Nature Coast was originally slated to host, but delays in track repairs forced a switch.

This meet will mirror the format of the Hernando/Citrus Classic in cross country, where everyone races together and the highest finisher in the team standings from each county is deemed county champ.

It's also a nod to the former Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, comprised of all of these schools minus Weeki Wachee, opened long after the conference disbanded in 2004.

Field events and the 4x800-meter relay start at 4 p.m. All other running events begin at 4:45 p.m.

Nature Coast enters as the favorite among all teams on both sides. The boys have claimed sixth straight county crowns, and the Lady Sharks have done so twice in four years.

"The virtual meet has the boys and girls ranked first," said Nature Coast boys coach Eric Milholland, who will be running the meet. "We're going out there to win. That's what we're trying to do.

"Springstead and Lecanto are a very close second. Springstead has some really great individuals and Lecanto has some really great individuals, also. They'll be breathing down our necks most of the meet because they can score a lot of points in field events."

In the county ranks over recent seasons, the Eagles have been the greatest challenger for the Sharks no matter the gender.

Aside from Hernando senior Connor Foradas, the county's two-time defending discus champion who has the season's top throw in that event (137-7) and shot put (42-9), Nature Coast and Springstead nearly sweep the current boys county honor roll.

The Eagles are paced by senior Bobby Harris, a reigning state champion high jumper, leading the county in long jump (20-10 1/2), triple jump (43-6) and high jump (6-8). He'll be seeking a third straight county title in the latter.

For the Sharks, senior James Harkless is the county's fastest in the 400 (53.42), 1,600 (4:39.90) and 800 (2:03.54).

Yet Milholland, a cross country coach by trade, doesn't believe Nature Coast's typical advantage in distance will carry the day.

"Really our depth across the board will keep us in this thing," Milholland said. "It's not just distance anymore. We don't have as much depth (in distance) as we had before. I think it'll be a solid effort on everybody's part."

Over seven regularly formatted meets this season, the Nature Coast boys have taken first four times.

As for the girls, they had won every meet until South Sumter's Raider Invitational over spring break, though they took only a handful of athletes to that one.

The Lady Sharks are seeking to regain the county's top spot after Springstead knocked them off for the second time in three years in 2013.

"I expect us to go out there and if we perform to our potential, I expect us to come out with a win," Nature Coast girls coach Ryan Wilson said. "The girls really, really work well together. They push each other in practice each day. It's just great competition and that only makes us better as a team."

Like their male counterparts, the Lady Sharks get by on depth. Junior Bronte Cameron seeks a county three-peat in both hurdles races and has posted county-leading times this season of 16.16 in the 100 hurdles and 48.26 in the 300 hurdles.

Sophomore Ashley Gentz has been the county's fastest sprinter, leading in the 100 (12.51) and 200 (25.95).

This will be the Lady Sharks' last meet before the Class 2A, District 7 Meet at Central on April 11, and building momentum is vital.

"Our goal is to win a district championship," Wilson said. "This will be a big test for us before we go into it."

Though the Lady Eagles are the defending county champs, Springstead girls coach Joel Myers admits a repeat isn't in the cards.

With top distance runner Amber Philpott sidelined by an undisclosed medical ailment and senior Wilena Little limited by a variety of leg injuries, Myers' squad lacks some considerable firepower.

Philpott, who shattered county records in cross country this fall, is the reigning county champ in the 1,600 and 3,200.

Meanwhile Little, a Florida International signee and two-time Hernando Today Athlete of the Year in girls track, still has a chance to add to an astounding 10 county titles already to her credit in her final county meet.

She'll have a chance to make it four in a row in the 200, and three straight in the long jump and possibly the 400. However, Myers said she won't run the 100, a race she's won the past three county meets.

Little, the highest returning state place in 3A in the long jump, still leads the county in that event with a 17-9.

Junior Erin Blackwell figures to make it three consecutive county titles in the 800, as she has the county's fastest time this season of 2:24.08.

Nevertheless, Myers won't make any alterations to his normal lineup as he would if a team title was more realistic.

"Without Philpott and with Wilena hurting, there's no way we beat Nature Coast. So I'm keeping my relays together," Myers said. "Nature Coast will score 100-something points. The most I can get is 80 points, something like that. It is what it is.

"To have my kids run well getting ready for districts, that's our goal. That's always my goal, getting as many kids out of districts to regions as we possibly can.

"My goal is to have the kids run well. It's late in the year. We're heading up to districts (April 16 at Lecanto) and we need to run well."

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At a Glance

What - Hernando/Citrus Championship Meet

Who - Central, Citrus, Crystal River, Hernando, Lecanto, Nature Coast, Springstead and Weeki Wachee

Where - Weeki Wachee's Hornets Nest

When - Today starting at 4 p.m. with field events and 4x800. Remaining running events begin at 4:45 p.m.

At Stake - County championship for teams and individuals, based on highest finisher from respective county

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