Thanks to a rained-out Kiwanis Invitational and last week’s spring break, Hernando County’s track and field teams have endured more than a two week lay-off.
All five squads were set to return to action Wednesday for one of the biggest events of the season, the Hernando County Championship Meet, hosted by Springstead. However, the threat of rain in the afternoon postponed the meet to Friday.
Field events and the 4x800 get under way at Booster Stadium at 4 p.m. The remaining races are slated to begin at 5:30 p.m.
Both the Nature Coast boys and girls hope to maintain their unbeaten marks and retain their county crowns. The boys have won this meet five straight times, while the Lady Sharks have done so two of the last three years.
The greatest intrigue appears to be on the boys side, where the host Eagles could legitimately challenge the Sharks.
Both teams last competed at the Central Invitational on March 19, with Nature Coast taking first place by 10 points over Springstead, 140-130.
Nobody has come that close to the Sharks all season, Nature Coast boys coach Ryan Wilson said.
“I definitely expect a dogfight with Springstead,” Wilson said. “They seem to be doing things right over there and they’re getting better every year. After looking at the virtual meet, it’s going to be a close one.
“Being at their place will definitely factor in. It gives them an advantage, as well. But we’ve traveled all year, so hopefully we’re used to it. And it’s in the county.”
He’s certainly not paying lip service to the Eagles, who own the county’s season-best performances in eight events, compared to five for the Sharks.
Surprisingly, though Nature Coast has the county’s strongest cross-country program, Springstead’s quartet of James Amodie, Jai Jackson, Ricky Toth and Zackary Romblad have posted the fastest time in the 4x800, 8:14.46 at the Steinbrenner Invitational.
The Eagles also boast reigning Hernando Today Boys Athlete of the Year Bobby Harris, a state title contender who has set a new school record of 6-9 in the high jump.
“Their advantage by far is field events,” Wilson said. “Their field events are amazing, where ours are mediocre. And their distance has improved 100 percent. In the end the only advantage we have is in sprinting.”
Sprinting points will be the difference, Wilson said, and that could be problematic because the county’s top sprinter would probably be Hernando’s Tyrail Hawkins.
The Sharks, though, have considerable sprinting depth, including their 4x100 of Matt Breida, Jacquez Kincade, Deshawn Smith and Frank Villaizan.
They’ll ride that group and their stable of distance runners in hopes of enjoying a six-peat.
“We’re definitely a senior-heavy team and these seniors don’t want to go out as the team that didn’t win a county championship,” Wilson said.
“Nature Coast is the clear favorite for the girls. We’re just going to do the best we can,” Springstead girls coach Joel Myers said. “I figure it’s a two-horse race, but I don’t think it’ll be much of a race.”
The chess match between Myers and his Nature Coast counterpart, Ed LaRose, may not transpire as it did the past couple of seasons.
The two teams have traded off winning this meet the last three years, and in the process both coaches have tweaked their lineup in an effort to maximize points.
Myers said he’ll split up his relays, but he won’t make major changes. The Lady Sharks have simply too great an edge in numbers.
“They’ve just got depth,” Myers said. “We’re going to get a lot of firsts, but they’ll get a lot of seconds, thirds and fourths.”
Indeed, the county honor roll is more spread out than Nature Coast’s dominance would indicate.
Springstead junior Wilena Little has been the individual standout of this event before, collecting four county titles in 2012 after two as a freshman.
Last year’s Hernando Today Girls Athlete of the Year will attempt to three-peat in the 100 and 200, and repeat in the 400 and long jump.
As for the team battle, the long time off and different scoring format has LaRose somewhat concerned.
“Our whole M.O. is we kill people with depth,” LaRose said. “(In this meet) only the top five score. The point totals are a little different. It’s not top eight, which favors us.
“Joel has some studs over there. The other schools do, too.”
In reality, though, LaRose admits the Lady Sharks are very much looking to build momentum for next week’s district meet while maintaining their local standing.
“These are the people they train with, the people they work with, the people they see every day, their friends in the social media world,” LaRose said. “Bragging rights are always big.”
At a Glance
What – Hernando County Championship Meet
Who – Central, Hernando, Nature Coast, Springstead and Weeki Wachee
Where – Springstead’s Booster Stadium
When – Friday starting at 4 p.m. with field events and 4x800. Remaining running events begin at 5:30 p.m.
At Stake – County championship for teams and individuals