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Nature Coast

Girls Cross-Country

TONY CASTRO Hernando Today correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 08:06 PM

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Crystal Burchhardt

Nature Coast – Junior

COMMENTS: Unanimous first-time All-County selection … Three-year starter … Competed in seven races as a freshman in 2010 … Was the first Lady Shark to the finish line thrice … Ranked fourth in the final Hernando County Honor Roll (21:19.42) … Missed the majority of her sophomore campaign in 2011 due to injuries. Was limited to two races … Dipped to 13th in the final Honor Roll (22:52.00) … Enjoyed a mostly injury-free, breakout season in 2012 … Competed in a personal-best nine races … Led the Lady Sharks to the finish line once (Wiregrass Ranch) … Enjoyed two top 10 finishes (eighth at Wiregrass Ranch and fifth in the 2A-6 Meet at Mount Dora Bible) … Recorded the second-fastest 5K time in 20:28.60 at Wiregrass Ranch.

QUOTES: "She has a lot on her plate with swimming and beauty pageants besides cross-country. … She definitely pushed harder than in the past. … We made sure we were on the same page from the beginning of the season. … Set the school record at Wiregrass Ranch. … What I liked most about our girls was they we're a very responsive group. Whatever I would suggest during a race, they'd do. …Crystal was probably the most responsive. If I asked her to catch a couple girls, she'd immediately adjust."

- Nature Coast head coach Eric Milholland

Alexa Lacy

Nature Coast – Freshman

COMMENTS: Another unanimous first-time All-County selection … Had a huge impact as a first-year thinclad … Competed in nine races … Led the Lady Sharks to the finish line seven times (Lukas Invitational, Mitchell Invitational, Pre-State, Mount Dora Bible Invitational, Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic, 2A-II at Lake Nona and 2A states at Tallahassee) … Notched a team-best five top 10 finishes (sixth at Lukas Invitational, ninth at Wiregrass Ranch, fifth at Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic, fourth at 2A-6, fifth in 2A-II) … Posted the county's third-fastest time this season (20:29.30) at Wiregrass Ranch.

QUOTES: "When I saw her during the summer, she had the right attitude for this sport. … This kid is full of character. … I knew right away that she could help us out immensely. … A very strong-willed person and gifted soccer player. … Before her first race, she asked me what she should do, I told her to pace with a certain Springstead girl. Sure enough, that's exactly what she proceeded to do for the entire race – that's when I knew she was something special. … Scary thing is she's only going to get better."

- Nature Coast head coach Eric Milholland

Brielle Perlingieri

Nature Coast – Senior

COMMENTS: Another unanimous first-time All-County selection … Second-year runner … In 2011, she was an average runner competing in seven races … Concluded her first season ranked 13th overall (23:22.80) … In 2012, enjoyed a breakout season … Competed in a personal-best 10 meets … Led the Lady Sharks to the finish line three times (Lecanto Invitational, Seffner Christian Invitational and 2A-6) … Posted five top 10 finishes (tenth at Lukas and Wiregrass Ranch, ninth at Seffner, seventh in 2A-II and third at 2A-6) … Ranked fifth in county with a fastest time of 20:50.10 at 2A-II at Lake Nona.

QUOTES: "Went from the back of the pack to toward the front of the pack in one season. … What a year! … I'd like to see her continue. … I believe she was just realizing what she could offer this sport. … I believe we'll see more of her talent in track. … She began tasting success when she started taking the sport more seriously. … I think she can build on this season's success."

- Nature Coast head coach Eric Milholland

Mary Thomson

Nature Coast – Junior

COMMENTS: Three-year starter … First-time All-County selection … As a freshman in 2010, competed in nine meets … Cracked the final Top 10 Honor Roll in tenth place (22:50.37) … Enjoyed one top 10 finish placing ninth at Nature Coast Invitational … In 2011, she again competed in nine races … In her 17th varsity race, she was the first Lady Shark to reach the finish line during the 2A-6 Meet at Nature Coast … Her sixth-place finish in 2A-6 was her lone top 10 finish that season … She concluded her second season ranked ninth in the county overall (22:17.03) … In 2012, Thomson competed in a career-high 10 meets … Though she never was the first Lady Shark across the finish line, she posted three top 10 finishes (ninth at Lukas, sixth twice at the Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic and 2A-6) … Thomson completed her third varsity season ranked fourth in the county overall (20:36.43).

QUOTES: "Mary is very soft spoken but she and Brianna (Horn) did a tremendous job as captains. … When she spoke, the girls listened. … I really depended on those two. … They're the ones that kept our girls focused with our goals in mind."

- Nature Coast head coach Eric Milholland

Runner of the Year

Tiana Newton

Springstead – Sophomore

COMMENTS: Two-year starter … Two-time All-County selection … Two-time Runner of the Year … In 2011, missed three meets due to an injury and family member's illness in Virginia … Was the county's lone representative in the rugged 3A-II Meet at Lecanto … Led Hernando County champion Lady Eagles to the finish line in 5-of-6 races … Compiled three top 10 finishes (fourth at Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic, tenth at Lecanto Invitational and 3A-6 Meet) … Posted the county's fastest 5.1-kilometer time at Hernando/Citrus (21:05.00), district (20:25.59) and regional (21:08.80) levels … Lifted weights during the summer to help get stronger and avoid nagging injuries prior to 2012 … Without a supporting cast, Newton paced the Lady Eagles to the finish line eight times in eight races this season … She recorded four top 10 finishes (ninth at Lecanto Invitational and Mitchell Invitational, sixth at Wiregrass Ranch and fifth at Lukas) … Severely injured her right ankle prior to the Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic … Before that injury, 25 Nature Coast runners competed against Newton across four different meets – not one was able to beat her to the finish line … Competing with one good leg, Newton concluded the season on a down note, placing 12th at the Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic at McKethan Lake followed by a 19th-place finish in the 3A-6 Meet at Crews Lake … Over the county's 224 individual races, Newton established the county's fastest time at Wiregrass Ranch (20:22.64) … Is expected to compete in her first season of track and field – specializing in the 3,200 meters (two mile) in the spring.

QUOTES: "It's always helpful to run in a pack – like Nature Coast did. Problem was we didn't have anybody who could stay close to her. … Until she got hurt, no one in the county beat her. … Going into the Hernando/Citrus Classic I really thought she'd break 20 (minutes). McKethan Lake is her favorite course. I figured she whip the course – that was until she twisted her ankle right before that race. … She's got a lot of guts. … I give her credit for competing essentially on one leg. … It was her decision to run; we could have held her out. … For next year, she needs to build up her speed. …She has no kick. …I think she'll develop it (a kick) once she starts track."

- Springstead head coach Joel Myers

"We couldn't run with her. … When she was healthy and we were healthy, we couldn't catch her. … She deserves this."

- Nature Coast head coach Eric Milholland

"She continued to work hard this year. … She's naturally gifted. … What I liked most? That she does not accept mediocre races. …Carries a great attitude and is extremely committed to the sport. … I wouldn't be surprised to see her do well in track in the 3,200."

- Central head coach Jennifer Adams

Coach of the Year

Eric Milholland

Nature Coast – 1st year

COMMENTS: Unanimous first-time selection … Took a Nature Coast team with essentially the same cast of characters from the year before, along with two talented freshmen, to new heights … Nature Coast won its first Hernando County title since 2007 … Milholland guided the Lady Sharks to their first-ever district title in a decade of competition … No Hernando County girls team had captured a district title in 13 years – or since Lisa Bilodeau's 2000 Central High squad … Nature Coast also claimed its first regional title in the sport during the 2A-II Meet at Lake Nona … No Lady Shark cross-country team had ever been to states before Milholland's squad placed 13th – out of 24 teams this fall …In the process, Nature Coast walked away with a school-record three championship trophies (Lecanto Invitational, 2A-6 and 2A-II) … Memo to opposing coaches: eight of Nature Coast's nine runners are expected back next fall.

QUOTES: "Most of the credit for our success belongs to our great captains – Mary Thomson and Brianna Horn – we needed their leadership. They're the ones that kept the team together. … Credit also belongs to (assistant) Coach (Ken) Dent. He was my sounding board. He'd say 'Why don't you try this or that?' He was the instrument of change. … The other reason for our success was all the mileage the girls put in during the summer – that made a huge difference – to me, that was an easy fix from the year before. … Personally, I think the biggest factor was I told the girls right off the bat that they had to get along – no one was going to be running by themselves this year. …Our captains instilled whatever path we were going to go down, we were going to do it together."

- Milholland

"He's knowledgeable and has a tremendous commitment to our running community. … He's an amazing guy to be able to coach both boys and girls. … He's also very compassionate and understanding. … He took a very young team and transformed it into what it is. …He definitely deserves this (COY)."

- Central head coach Jennifer Adams

"Nature Coast used to have between 20-30 girls run every year. Not this year. What Eric did was whittle that number down to find the girls who were committed to the sport. … He didn't just make them better, he made them dramatically better. … Remember he almost didn't have enough bodies available for a team score at the Hernando/Citrus Classic. What he brought were the girls who were dedicated to the sport and the team."

- Springstead head coach Joel Myers

"What I saw was a coach very committed to the sport. … Even when he ran meets, everything went really smooth – that all a reflection of Coach Milholland. …What I like is he's got the drive and it shows with his teams."

- Weeki Wachee head coach Elisa Awtrey

"The way the team performed made Eric the obvious choice (for COY). … The guy deserves the credit. … They didn't perform without him coaching them up. … You don't win the county, districts and regions and go to states without a solid leader. … Their success has as much to do with Eric's abilities to point them in the right direction. … To me, I think he saw what he had before the season and said, 'Being good isn't good enough.'"

- Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger

2012 Hernando Today All-County Girls Cross-Country Selections

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


Burchhardt, Crystal NCT 11th

Lacy, Alexa NCT 9th

Perlingieri, Brielle NCT 12th

Thompson, Mary NCT 11th

Runner of the Year – Tiana Newton* (Springstead).

Coach of the Year – Eric Milholland (Nature Coast).

* Denotes repeat selection

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