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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015

First-year Philpott county's best in 12 years

Hernando Today correspondent


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Statistics never shed light on the absolute story.

Performance, as coaches have stressed for years, in any athletic arena is the ultimate judge and jury.

Welcome to the courtroom of Springstead sophomore Amber Rebecca Philpott.

Philpott was the unanimous selection as the Hernando Today Girls Cross Runner of the Year.

Her sheer numbers dwarfed her competition.

Philpott and her twin brother were born in Hudson to Mike and Cheryl Philpott. The Philpott's reside in Spring Hill and have called Hernando County home for the past 13 years.

Until middle school, the current 5-foot whiz kid played soccer for the Hernando Heat.

At Challenger K-8, Philpott found her niche - running.

As a seventh- and eighth-grader, Philpott competed for the Navigators in the 1,600 meter (one-mile) and 4x800 relay.

She caught on so quickly, she won the 1,600 in the season-ending Hernando County Middle School Athletic Conference Championship.

"I liked running," said Philpott. "To me, it's like a stress-reliever. I block out things and just take off. I kind of like running by myself - it's really relaxing. I remember everybody on my soccer team was doing different events in track. I thought, 'Why shouldn't I?'"

On what followed, "Running came kind of easy," she said. "It wasn't like I was trying to be anybody else; I wasn't being pushed. I sort of pushed myself. I'm really was self-motivated."

Upon matriculating to Springstead, Philpott concentrated her efforts in track and field as a freshman last spring.

Under veteran mentor Joel Myers, Philpott competed in the 1,600 and 3,200 (two-mile), and 4x800 relay.

"My favorite event is the 3,200," described Philpott. "I really didn't like doing the shorter distances. I got better as the season went on."

As a novice prep runner, Philpott nearly reached the FHSAA Finals in track.

In her first-ever district competition, the Class 3A District 6 Meet at Wiregrass Ranch, Philpott teamed up with Ty'Rhonza Harris, Kayla Brittain and Erin Blackwell to place fifth in the 4x800 relay.

In her finest individual event, she placed fourth in the 3,200 in 12:03.66.

The following week at the rugged 3A-Region II Meet at Tampa-Freedom, Philpott agonizingly finished fifth in the 3,200 final. Only the top four advanced to states.

None of the runners she lost to were slouches.

She lost to Tampa-Chamberlain freshman Maggie Parrish and three long distance veterans - seniors Catherine Blaney of Belleview, Nikita Shah of Wiregrass Ranch and Claudia Cancello of Mitchell.

At the ensuing 3A finals, Cancello finished as a state runner-up, Blaney was fourth and Parrish placed 10th. Only Shah failed to place, because she did not run that race.

Once track season was complete, many of the Lady Eagle distance runners began to prepare for this fall's cross country season.

"Last fall I was sick and didn't come out," recalled Philpott. "Coach Myers really didn't have to convince me or anything to come out this year."

What followed was the stuff of legends.

Forget the fact that Philpott had never competed in an organized 5K (3.1-mile) race. She took to the sport as smoothly as any skier navigates at Aspen.

In eight races she was the first Lady Eagle to the finish line.

Expanding that picture, Philpott competed against 806 different runners. In all, she defeated 794 (or a gaudy 98.5 percent).

In the process, she shattered the county record for most individual 5K wins in a season with five and most wins a row (four).

During the most critical part of the season she swept the Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic (which serves as the Hernando County Championship), the 3A-7 and 3A-II Meets.

At the 40th annual FHSAA Finals in Leon County, she became the first Hernando County runner in nearly a decade to place in the exclusive top 10 - Hernando High's Leela Hadsock last achieved that feat at states in 2004.

Of the 246 Hernando County female distance runners who have competed in at least one 5K since the 3.1-mile distance was incorporated 12 seasons ago, Philpott shattered Hadsock's former mark of 19:17.00 in 2004 - amazingly in her first race.

The diminutive Philpott has set the current record at an astonishing 18:31.41 clocking during the 3A-7 Meet at Brooksville's McKethan Lake.

Area coaches were solid in support of Philpott being voted as Runner of the Year.

"Amber had a terrific first year of cross country. . She put up the kind of numbers we've never seen before," explained Coach Myers. "What I like most? There aren't many runners who outwork her. She definitely puts in the mileage.

"I thought her defining moment was placing in the top 10 and medaling at states. That field was loaded and she caught two kids down the stretch to place."

Maybe Central's first-year mentor Jen Merschbach best summed up Philpott's inaugural cross country season the best, saying, "Amber is an outstanding athlete and showed great sportsmanship. She's a tremendous role model for our county."

Philpott struggled with a reaction to the announcement, "I'm kind of surprised," she said. "There were so many other seniors. All I was trying to do was work on improving my time. I really don't go into races with a strategy . I just run."

The season's defining moment, according to Philpott, was placing in the loaded 3A field.

"It was so cold that morning. When I first got out of the car, I didn't want to run," recalled Philpott. "Of all the races, there definitely was pressure at states.

"I really didn't think I was going to place (in the top 10), but in the last half-mile I started picking people off," she said. "States was stressful; I was so glad when it was over."

Philpott isn't a one-dimensional athlete. In the classroom, she carries a 4.0 grade point average. She does find solace with art.

She credits her mother and father for "always being so supportive and taking me wherever I need to go."

In her spare moments, Philpott spends time with her family and goes shopping in the malls.

Though she's 2 years away from commencement exercises at Booster Stadium, she'd "like to run in college."

With her second track season several weeks from beginning, her "short-term goal is to medal at states and my long-term goal is to earn a scholarship."

By the numbers: Springstead's Amber Philpott

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


3rd 19:16.05 Lecanto Invitational Lecanto High

1st 20:24.47 NCT Invitational NCT High

3rd 19:31.00 Mitchell Invitational New Port Richey's Starkey Park

1st 19:16.08 Citrus Invitational Inverness' Whispering Pines Park

1st 19:01.68 Hernando/Citrus Classic Brooksville's McKethan Lake

1st 18:31.41* Class 3A, District 7 Brooksville's McKethan Lake

1st 18:53.80 Class 3A, Region II Orlando-Lake Nona

9th 18:49.14 Class 3A FHSAA Finals Tallahassee's Apalachee Regional Park

* Denotes Hernando County record.

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