The ninth and 10th years of the Nature Coast Technical boys cross-country program yielded a cache of success.
In 2011-12, NCT thinclads toted home 10 championship trophies in 22 5K (3.1-mile) races (45 percent).
Over the past three seasons - all since skipper Eric Milholland arrived from Central - the Sharks have been the premiere distance program in Hernando County.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
Prior to Milholland's arrival, NCT never finished higher than third in the county meet.
Since his arrival, the Sharks have claimed back-to-back-to-back county crowns, back-to-back district titles, captured their first-ever regional crown (2011) - and more importantly reached the coveted FHSAA Finals for a school-record three straight seasons.
On the eve of Year 11 on the California Street campus, NCT will attempt to continue its dominant path minus four starters from 2012 who all finished among the top 10 in the final Honor Roll - Cody Van Natter, Kevin Ciccione, Stephen Murphy and Joe Clark.
The losses were significant.
Van Natter was the county's three-time Runner of the Year. Ciccione was also a three-time All-County pick while Murphy was a repeat selection.
Before anyone at NCT pushes the panic button, consider Coach Milholland chose to host this year's Class 2A, District 7 and 2A-Region II Meets in Brooksville.
The reason, NCT retains six lettermen from 2012: senior captain James Harkless and classmate Nick Deligio, junior Kyle Armbruster, and sophomores Austin Mulyck, Matt Aubertin and Jacob Rockwell.
Harkless, an All-County performer in track and field and cross-country, posted last season's fastest 5K time of 16:44.81. For his part, Mulyck ranked ninth in the county circuit at 17:52.86.
NCT's six new roster additions include: seniors Nick Conway, Anthony Perlingieri, Noah Remondelli, Brandon Seaton-Gonzalez and Colton Lancsarics and junior Connor Schwefringhaus.
"When I first saw this group I thought we'd be in rebuilding mode," candidly stated Coach Milholland. "But we've got a lot of bodies, so I've modified my stance.
"Last year, that team had a lot of knowledge; by comparison, this current group doesn't have an idea of what it takes to win at the varsity level," noted Milholland, who has been anointed Hernando Today Coach of the Year four times over the past five years.
"We're fortunate that a lot of kids that are out who had solid performances in track," he said.
In forecasting the county scene, "I haven't seen much of Springstead, but I have them in my sights," declared Milholland. "It's hard to compare them when I haven't seen them yet."
On the newly realigned 2A-7, "I realize we're taking on a lot by hosting districts and regions," said Milholland. "But we should be right there with Crystal River, Pasco and Gulf.
"In the regional, Trinity Prep has to be the favorite; they've got everyone back from last year. If we can get past Lake Highland Prep, we should be able to go to states (again at Tallahassee's Apalachee Regional Park)."
???Fourth-year Springstead mentor Brandon Wright believes his squad should be included in the discussion for the county crown.
That's something that hasn't been a reality since 1990.
Though the Eagles graduated their lone All-County performer from last season, Carl Zee, and senior Jesse Laurenti transferred back to Weeki Wachee - Coach Wright is confident this group of thinclads can be represented in regionals for the first time since 2000.
Wright's optimism is based on the return of six lettermen including: seniors James Amodie, Jai Jackson, Dennis "D.J." Carroll and Hank Deslaurier, junior Josh Page and sophomore Jeff Amodie.
James Amodie concluded last season ranked sixth in the local circuit (17:32.76) while Jackson ranked 10th (18:27.00).
"We lost some great runners from last year," noted Coach Wright, who watched his team place fourth in the prestigious Hernando/Citrus Classic before placing sixth out of 12 teams in the 3A-6 Meet at Crews Lake Park. "Carl was a tremendous leader for us, but we're fortunate that Jai has put in so much road work over the summer (estimated over 500 miles).
"We're fortunate to have good character kids and two great leaders in Jai and Jimmy (Amodie)."
On whether this Eagle team can be the first to win a county crown in 24 seasons, "I can't see why not," said Coach Wright. "We've raised our expectation levels. The opportunity is in front of us. Nature Coast has a great program, but they lost a lot of outstanding runners. I really believe we belong in the conversation at the end of the season."
On the newly realigned 3A-7, "Land O' Lakes is solid; they're got to be the team to beat," said Coach Wright. "And Belleview is bringing back a lot of runners. I thought we were a sixth guy away from going last year (to regionals). It'll be another dogfight to get to regionals."
In forecasting 3A-II, "We're going north which helps us stay away from all the Tampa schools," detailed Wright. "We're fortunate not to have Sarasota or Wiregrass Ranch in our regional, either. Our No. 1 goal is to get out of districts - that's something we've set our sights on."
???For the first time in five seasons, the once dominant Hernando High cross-country program will return its coach: David Wilson.
Last fall, Coach Wilson's first-ever squad placed fifth in the Hernando/Citrus Classic on the Leopards' home course at McKethan Lake before placing fourth out of five teams in the 2A-6 Meet at Mount Dora Bible.
The Leopards return eight lettermen from last season including: seniors Bailey Mosher and Christian Council, junior Clint Wilkins, and sophomores Tyler Pantley, Charles Steinkamp, Zackary Dill, Justin McGettigan and Dylan Wilson.
The future of the team revolves around Pantley and Steinkamp.
Pantley concluded 2012 with the 11th-fastest 5K time in the county in 18:31.10 while Steinkamp ranked 17th (18:59.56).
Pantley was the Leopards' lone representative in the season-ending 2A_II Meet at Orlando-Lake Nona.
In a year's time, Coach Wilson has noticed his team's improvement.
"The whole group is a year older and has a full year of competing at this level," declared Coach Wilson. "That's huge. Secondly, we're training better. I got a late start last year and as a result we were behind when the season started. This time we've got a little more horsepower going into the season."
HHS' leaders, according to Coach Wilson, are Pantley, Steinkamp and Wilkins.
"Pantley knocked it out of the park as far as getting in his base mileage. The other two did get some miles in," explained Wilson. "That's a lot better than we did last year."
County-wise, "I think we can close the gap on Springstead and Nature Coast," emphasized Coach Wilson. "Everybody's No. 4 and No. 5 runners can kill you. If our No. 4-5s move up, then we could compete with Springstead and Nature Coast."
As far as forecasting 2A-7, "There's no question Nature Coast is the strongest team in our district," Wilson said. "If we mature fast enough I think we could be battling for second."
???With the recent departure of Tyson Graham, Central High's third coach in three seasons, former New York prep standout Jen Merschbach, is at the controls.
Merschbach, who ran cross-country and track (specializing in the 800 meter, mile and two-mile) and played hoops, inherits a Bear program that finished ninth in districts in 2009 and 2011-12 and 10th in 2010.
Coach Merschbach has five returning lettermen including: seniors Austin Gray and Robert Clay, juniors Trevor Morris and Arthur Khalikov, and sophomore Tyler Cline.
Gray posted the Bears' fastest time last season in 18:49.00.
Eleven Bear newcomers includes: freshmen Kevin O'Connell and Darius Budden, sophomore Steven Cabrera, juniors Jared Butts, Daniel Scott and Brandon Edmisten, and seniors Deiontae Baker, Frankie Soto, Jonathan Barker, Jeff Turncliff and Travis Undestad.
"It's a very young team with a lot of potential," described Coach Merschbach. "We had a late start since I was recently hired.
"I'd like to see them improve and get PRs (personal records) from the previous season," declared Coach Merschbach on her team goals. "We're working on lowering our times, run the best they can and hopefully like the sport."
Weeki Wachee's boys tennis and basketball coach Bob Croyle takes over the reins of the Hornets' cross-country team.
Due to lack of numbers, the Hornets have failed to produce a team score in any of the 12 meets they've been represented in over the past two seasons.
According to Coach Croyle, the Hornets will begin the season with four thinclads: senior Jesse Laurenti, Jesse Hernandez and Andrew Jensen, and junior Waillys Cuellar.
None of the four competed for the Hornets last fall. Laurenti competed for WWHS in 2011 before transferring to SHS in 2012.
"We're hoping Jesse (Laurenti) helps us out a lot," predicted Coach Croyle of the county's seventh-fastest thinclad last fall.
On his first impressions, "It's hard to tell," said Croyle. "Laurenti is the only one to have ever run before. These are great kids and they're doing the workouts I've asked them to do. Problem is they don't have any base mileage to build up from."
On his team goals, "I want to see the guys get better as the year goes on," emphasized Coach Croyle. "Jesse will be OK and I think Hernandez will be competitive. Jensen will do anything for the team."
2012 FINAL HERNANDO COUNTY BOYS CROSS COUNTRY HONOR ROLL
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
RK. NAME GRADE SCHOOL RACES TIME
1. Harkless, James 11 NCT 11 16:44.81
2. Ciccione, Kevin 12 NCT 11 16:50.00
3. Van Natter, Cody 12 NCT 11 16:50.43
4. Murphy, Stephen 12 NCT 11 17:10.47
5. Zee, Carl 12 SPG 8 17:29.00
6. Amodie, James 11 SPG 8 17:32.76
7. Laurenti, Jesse 11 SPG 7 17:40.00
8. Clark, Joe 11 NCT 8 17:42.00
9. Mulyck, Austin 09 NCT 11 17:52.86
10. Jackson, Jai 11 SPG 7 18:27.00