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Published:   |   Updated: May 13, 2013 at 07:58 PM

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Hernando County's four girls weightlifting programs, featuring approximately 110 student/athletes, have one primary purpose: to get as many lifters as possible to celebrate an early Valentine's Day.
You see, on Saturday, Feb. 13, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) will hold its seventh State Championship Finals in the sport at nearby New Port Richey-River Ridge Middle/High School.
Here's a breakdown of each program.

Eagles 101

The county's finest program at F.W. Springstead is in a retooling stage.
Six of its finest lifters from last winter's unbeaten (4-0) county championship team are not back. Graduation claimed Lindsay Kuhn, Caroline Monzo, Frances Pagan and Karlee Burrows. Kuhn and Burrows were county champs last season.
Monzo was the highest finisher among the Hernando County lifters at states, missing out on a precious medal by one place - eighth. And she was a first-year lifter.
Other veteran Lady Eagle lifters like Katelin Killory, Iza O'Neal and Brittany Morgan did not return.
But before anyone predicts the Lady Eagles have no chance of earning their county record fourth straight title, look again.
Third-year Head Coach Mike Garofano opens the season with a staggering 55-man roster.
The reason? Quite simply, he doesn't cut anyone.
His philosophy is athletes cut themselves. In his book, you miss x-number of workouts and there's the door.
The cupboard isn't bare on the Mariner Boulevard campus.
Garofano still retains an arsenal of seniors in Jennifer Rosino, Olivia D'Acunto, Jennifer Dragonchuk and Andreanna Marks.
Marks may symbolize this team. She placed fifth in the county meet last year with a 200-pound total at 183 pounds.
On Wednesday night, she opened the season with a fine 240-pound first-place effort.
D'Acunto, a tremendous all-around athlete, is a two-time county champ.
Rosino hoisted more weight last winter (275 pounds at 169 pounds) than anyone else on campus. She's a returning county champ and a 2009 state qualifier.
Dragonchuk finished third in the county at 129 pounds. She actually tied for second place but weighed in more, settling for third. She lost by 10 pounds to Hernando High's Melinda Blount, who graduated.
How serious are Dragonchuk and Rosino?
In their initial meet - the first of possibly eight meets this winter - Rosino opened with a 315-pound total. That's 40 pounds better than last year.
Meanwhile, Dragonchuk surpassed her personal-best 245-pound total from last year with a 270-pound total in the season-opener Wednesday night against Nature Coast.
SHS opened on the right foot Wednesday with a 49-40 nod over much-improved NCT.
What's the key to the Lady Eagles' continued success?
"What's working for us is we have the numbers and we have a few veteran leaders carrying us," said Garofano, who improved to 10-1 lifetime.
"And I give credit to our senior captains, Rosino, Dragonchuk and Marks, those girls have literally been in the weight room since last year. During the summer, they'd see me and ask me to open up the weight room. None of those girls waited until the season started to pick up a weight. That's dedication."
What's the main goal?
"Winning the county is nice," admitted Garofano. "But our goal in year three, it's to get as many girls to states and place. We're not settling on reaching states; it's about placing at states."

Leopards 101

The overall numbers are way down for Hernando High's second-year skipper Shawn Bingham.
How down?
He opened the season with a nine-man roster.
But it's not about quantity as it is quality.
Quality begins with two-time state qualifier and senior Jasmine Sharpe at 199 pounds.
Next to teammate Ava Baylor, who graduated, Sharpe etched the county's highest total last winter with a 300-pound total.
Like D'Acunto, Sharpe is also looking for her third county gold medal.
Another Leopard senior is Sharvae Bennett. Because of Baylor's presence, most folks forget Bennett was second in the county at heavyweight last winter with a 285-pound total. Look for her to ascend to the top rung this winter.
Unfortunately, until the Lady Leopards bolster their roster, they may not duplicate their second-place county finish from a year ago.

Bears 101

Earlier in the decade, Central was the county leader in this sport, capturing four county titles in five years.
But recently the Lady Bears have posted back-to-back last-place efforts the past two winters.
For veteran Head Coach Cliff Lohrey, those results are simply unacceptable.
Going into the season, the Lady Bears have dropped 15 dual meets in a row. Their last dual meet win was Dec. 14, 2005, a 40-15 win over archrival Nature Coast.
This year, CHS opens the season with a substantially larger roster (23 kids).
Now it must improve its performance in meets.
The Bears will have to get better without their lone county champ from last winter, Hailey Goodwin at 110, who graduated.
Kim Forte, who finished second to Rosino at 183 pounds, however, is back.

Sharks 101

Until last winter's breakout 5-1 campaign, the Lady Sharks never appeared as serious county contenders. And NCT's lone county champion last winter, Marissa Perez at 119, graduated.
But behind a 34-man roster, Head Coach Ryan Wilson's program appears to have turned the corner.
Should Springstead stumble, the Lady Sharks appear poised to earn their first-ever county championship.
Why the optimism?
Seven of their finest lifters from last year are back including: senior Carmen Morales and Kasandrarae Daniels, and juniors Tiffany Bounmysai, Kara Curley, Kiara Diaz, Angie Gaffney and Kylie Johnson.
Senior and first-year lifter Chelsea Roberts will help stabilize the line-up.
Also, an infusion of depth in the higher weight classes may tip the scales in favor of the Lady Sharks.

Sports Editor Tony Castro can be reached at 352-544-5278 or online at

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