Hernando County’s 45th season of boys cross gets underway Saturday morning at the Lecanto High Invitational in Citrus County. All five county programs are expected to be represented.
The local landscape, for so many years dominated by Hernando High under Hall of Fame head coach Ernie Chatman, and even for a brief stint by Central under Vic Cervizzi, has been altered.
For seven seasons (2003-09), Nature Coast Technical’s thinclad program attempted to make a dent locally. But since Eric Milholland departed Central in the summer of 2010 for the California Street campus, the Sharks have been the big dog locally.
Milholland’s troops have etched consecutive county titles from 2010-13, consecutive district titles (2011-12), the school’s first-ever regional title (2011) and four straight trips to the FHSAA Finals.
Milholland, a math instructor, has posted some other dazzling numbers. Across four seasons, his teams have finished in the top 10 in 38-of-42 meets (90 percent) while collecting 14 first-place trophies.
But last June’s commencement exercises cost Milholland six lettermen, including three-time All-County selection and 2013 Runner of the Year James Harkless.
NCT does return five lettermen including seniors Conner Schwefringhaus and Kyle Armbruster, and juniors Matt Aubertin, Austin Mulyck and Jacob Rockwell.
In last season’s final Honor Roll, Mulyck’s 16:51.02 was second in the county only to Harkless’ 16:34.55.
NCT fans won’t have to fret too long on who’ll fill Harkless’ large shoes with five first-year runners led by freshmen Trevor Foley and Gregory Mancuso, sophomore Gabriel Guillen, junior Marc Preston and senior Daniel Montoya.
Landing Foley was a major coup for the Sharks.
“He’s not only a great kid but he comes from a great family background,” noted Coach Milholland. “He trained with us during the summer. Austin’s parents and Trevor’s parents took care of all of our fundraisers, That kind of parental support helps me out so much.”
On the 2014 Sharks, “Austin is a fantastic leader and this helps Foley learn how to race. Cross country is different than running road races,” explained Coach Milholland. “He’s pretty much been our number one guy every day of practice.”
Looking at the team, “We’ve got a solid 1-2 punch with Mulyck and Foley. I’d pencil in Conner as our number three with Jacob as our number four. At this point, I think Montoya is our sleeper. He’s our ace in the hole; he’s very athletic and could end up as our number five.”
The biggest concern surrounds NCT’s fifth position.
“We have to build a fire between our 5-6-7 guys,” pointed out Milholland. “Those guys have got to get it done.”
County-wise, “I think both Springstead and Hernando each have three good kids,” said Milholland. “We’re in the same boat. Our bottom guys have to get it done. Our goal by the Hernando/Citrus Meet is to beat Lecanto. We don’t want them to beat us again.”
In Class 2A, District 7, “Gulf beat us by six points last year,” pointed out Milholland. “We have to find a way to beat Gulf. We have seven weeks to figure it out.
“Nature Coast will be successful,” described Milholland, “if we play five-card stud. We need five quality runners. If we get that, we’ll be good.”
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In 1990, head coach Fred Hudson savored Springstead’s last Hernando County championship.
Twenty-four years, the Mariner Boulevard crew is attempting to end that title drought.
In skipper Brandon Wright’s fifth season, the Eagles will attempt to replace six lettermen including their two finest runners last fall: James Amodie and Jai Jackson. Both were All-County performers as each reached as deep as regionals.
SHS finished third in the county and finished fifth out of 10 teams in the 3A-7 Meet at McKethan Lake.
Coach Wright does return three lettermen including senior Josh Page (season-best 18:24.19), and juniors Jeff Amodie (17:53.85) and Vasu Malhotra (22:31.00).
Eight underclassmen dot the current SHS roster including: freshmen William Osborn and William Marquis, sophomores Jerry Lee, Ricardo Estrada and Taylor Bilodeau, and juniors Chris Daniel, Allen Keister and Nicholas McInnis.
“What I like is the amount of youth on board,” declared Coach Wright. “Keister, a move-in from Ohio, came to us as a mid-summer surprise. He’s going to be pretty good. He ran a 17:06 back home.
“With Jeff, Josh and Allen), we think we have three pretty darn good runners,” added Wright. “Ricardo ran track for us, but he’s never run cross country, and Osborn has looked good in our workouts. We have to solidify our No. 4-5 positions.
On the county picture, “Nature Coast lost a great runner in Harkless, but picked up another great one in Foley; so that’s a wash,” said Coach Wright. “We’re coming in with high expectations, but we can only control what we do. It’s not like we can play defense
“We have to take every county opponent serious. Someone like Hernando is very dangerous. We’re all trying to figure out the back end of the lineup.”
On 3A-7, “We expect Land O’ Lakes to again set the pace,” insisted Wright. “I think it would be foolish not to include us in the conversation among the best teams in the district.
“Springstead will be successful if we reach our goal of getting the team to regionals and we’re setting PRs (personal records) along the way,” said Wright. “We want to be a better team on Oct. 30 than we are at Lecanto on Saturday.”
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From 2008-12, the county’s most storied cross country program – Hernando High – went through five coaches in five seasons.
David Wilson has brought some stability beginning his third season at the helm seeking the Leopards’ first county, district and regional crowns since 2006.
The Purple and Gold is coming off a campaign where the Leopards finished behind NCT in the county standings, placed sixth out of nine teams in the 2A-7 Meet and were represented by two runners in regionals.
Though HHS lost four lettermen from 2013, its returns five including: senior Clint Wilkins (19:37.91) and juniors Charles “Chaz” Steinkamp (17:46.47), Tyler Pantley (18:06.55), Zachary Dill (21:16.71) and Dylan Wilson (22:37.29).
Junior Justin McGettigan is the Leopards’ lone addition to the roster.
According to Coach Wilson, Steinkamp did not build up his base training during the summer due to his knees being afflicted by Osgood-Schlatter disease.
“I like the competition we currently have between our top three runners (Steinkamp, Pantley and Wilkins),” described Coach Wilson. “Steinkamp isn’t where he wants to be, but that’s OK during the first week of September. But after those three guys, we have a big falloff – that’s a huge concern right now.
“We can compete as a team at districts if our No. 4-5 guys are as good as Eric’s (Milholland),” said Wilson. “At the minimum we’d like to advance to regionals.”
Kevin Fitzgerald, who is also coaching the Lady Bears’ program, becomes Central’s fifth boys mentor across the past six seasons.
CHS hasn’t captured a Hernando County championship since Milholland’s 2007-09 teams.
The Bears haven’t captured a district or regional title since capturing a state championship in 2A in 1996 under Cervizzi.
Last fall under first-year Jen Merschbach, the Bears finished fourth in the county ranks, eighth in 2A-7 and sent a runner to regionals.
The Bears do not return eight lettermen from last year including their lone All-County pick: Austin Gray.
CHS does return five lettermen including: juniors Steven Cabrera and Tyler Cline, and seniors Brandon Edmisten, Arthur Khalikov and Trevor Morris.
Cabrera (19:54.72) and Morris (19:56.58) were ranked 2-3 runners on the Bears’ squad behind Gray (17:26.59).
Newcomers to the roster include: frosh David Woodward, sophomores Aliias Alexis, Michael Collins, Hunter Johnston, Ethan Morales, and Andrew Shaw, juniors Lucas Digiacomo, Troy Montero and Stephen Tellone, and seniors Jared Butts, Taylor Drake, Patrick Evans and Michael Tippet.
“So far, Cabrera has really impressed me,” pointed out Coach Fitzgerald. “And Trevor is our team captain. I love his leadership skills.
“I realize we need year-round practices to turn this around,” added Fitzgerald. “Hopefully, some of these kids will learn what it’s all about and help us continue to build.”
Weeki Wachee’s three coaches in four seasons have yet to produce a team score during districts – but that remains the primary goal in Year 4.
Last fall under first-year skipper Bob Croyle, WWHS posted team scores in all five regular-season meets prior to districts.
Of the 11 Hornets to participate last fall, however, eight have not returned. WWHS’ three returnees feature seniors Gavin Beck and Justin Bures, and sophomore Alex Helm.
Helm posted the fastest time of the returning trio in 21:44.51.
WWHS’ 11 newcomers include: seniors Marcel Boswell, Nick Opalka and Patrick Adams, juniors Jon Puig and Dylan McKeag, sophomores Bailey Hypes, Zach Parsons and Anthony Valante along with frosh Dylan Nelson, Jon Helm and Brandon Boggs.
“We have a couple of new guys to the program with some potential,” said Coach Croyle. “We are hoping to improve on last year’s times by not just finishing races, but by moving up in the standings. If the kids continue to work hard and improve, we could surprise some people.”