Springstead's six-year reign as Hernando County's girls weightlifting champions appears over.
This year's 2012-13 season begins with competitions Tuesday. For the five locals programs involved, it's a classic case of quality over quantity.
Nature Coast Technical finished a modest 4-2 in 2011-12. The Lady Sharks are 9-4 over the past two winters under third-year mentor Sharon Elliott.
Last season was highlighted by a second-place county finish, a fifth-place finish in the rugged Disparti Invitational at River Ridge, seventh-place in the District 5 Meet and a 32nd place tie out of 111 schools represented at states in Kissimmee.
Though Nature Coast has never captured a Hernando County championship in its first nine seasons, the landscape could alter this time around.
The Nature Coast optimism is based not so much on what the Lady Sharks did last winter as opposed to how many quality lifters they return to the starting lineup this winter.
The team's nine returning lettermen have drawn the attention of area coaches.
Nature Coast is led by 2011 state qualifier and junior Alicia Gentz's return to the weight room. She concentrated on track and field last year.
More importantly, Gentz will no longer have to solve Lifter of the Year Julia Monzo from Springstead. Monzo, a 2012 state placer, graduated last summer.
Another 2011 state qualifier, senior Dana Mackiewicz, is also back in the fold. This will be her third varsity season.
Gentz finished 19th overall in states at 101 pounds in 2011, while Mackiewicz finished 25th at183. Mackiewicz and Gentz were 2010-11 All-County selections.
Nature Coast's lone 2012 state qualifier, senior Kiana Espinal, is expected to battle Gentz, Springstead's Andrea Purvis and Hernando's Victoria Alderman and Megan Lane for 2012-13 Lifter of the Year laurels.
Lady Shark senior Jasmyn Davila easily rounds out Nature Coast's "Fab Four" and could join Espinal, Gentz, and Mackiewicz at states.
Davila, who tied Lane for the highest total lifted at 129 pounds (235) last winter, failed to qualify for districts by weighing in 2/10ths of a pound over weight last winter.
Davila and Espinal, the team's two county champions from last season, are returning 2011-12 All-County selections.
Other seasoned returning Nature Coast starters include: senior Kae Elliott and juniors Brianna Horn, Kayla Harvey, Brittney Traudt and Rachel Crayton.
Nature Coast newcomers include: senior Allison Rentas, juniors Kaitlyn Collins and Brittany Tercerro, sophomores Isabella Bagnato and Taylor Zack, and freshmen Kailee Hamilton, Shelby Theis, Shona Thompson, Heather McCausland, Amelia Schmit and Rebecca Crayton.
Before Thursday's season opener against visiting South Sumter, Coach Elliott explained what she liked most about this current squad.
"This group has a good mix of returning kids and fresh faces," noted Elliott, who captured a pair of county team championships in 2002-03 with Central before relocating to Nature Coast. "The new girls are just excited about competing. The experienced girls are looking forward to improving their personal bests."
On her team's greatest concern, "The numbers could be better," pointed out Coach Elliott. "We've got around 20 girls. Nearly half of our girls are inexperienced. There's a learning curve involved. We have just enough to fill in each of the weight classes."
Despite an obvious amount of quality lifters, Coach Elliott is cautiously optimistic on her team's chances to win the county and contend for a district title.
"We need our experienced girls to show the way to the younger girls," emphasized Coach Elliott. "They have to act as role models for the younger ones.
"And I think we'll need a few meets to sort things out," she added. "Brianna (Horn) won't be able to help us until cross-country season is over – that's a couple weeks away.
"I'm not one to pound my chest. We'll see if we're the best team. If we are, this (season) will be very special for our seniors."
On the District 5 outlook, "Citrus has had girls coming out in droves for years. I see them and River Ridge at the top," stressed Coach Elliott. "If things go our way we could get anywhere from 3-5 kids to go to states – that would be wonderful. We will have a successful season if we can maintain our consistency."
Springstead enters Wednesday's curtain raiser against Central behind a county-high 42 lifters on its roster.
The quantity of lifters is not a surprise for the six-time defending county champions (five times under Garfano and the other under Cecilia Page in 2007).
The biggest difference among the Lady Eagle ranks is the quality of returning starters.
Springstead lost nine seniors, including six county champions – Sarah Costa at 101 pounds, Monzo at 119, Jordan Anderson at 139, Morgan Szymanski at 154, Domenique Sorresso at 183 and Farley Barnett at unlimited – from a group that posted its best-ever finish at states (26th).
Springstead will rest its slim chances at a seven-peat behind six returning starters from last year's county meet, along with the return of Purvis.
Purvis, a 2011 county champion, was injured (neck) last winter and failed to complete the season.
The Lady Eagles returnees include seniors Jaclyn Mercer, Melissa Fernandez, Ashleigh Ruby and Lauren Hartwell, junior Ty'Rhonza Harris and sophomore Madeline Genuardi. On the down side, none of these lifters is a returning county champion.
On the team's youth movement, "I like all the youth we have," explained Garofano. "All the freshmen are working out as hard as our seniors. Our biggest concern is also our greatest strength – our youth. This group as a whole is inexperienced, but with so many girls aboard that means the program will be strong for years to come."
On Purvis' return, "She finished swim season in good shape," noted Coach Garofano. "She's definitely our most seasoned veteran. She's got the most legit shot of reaching states. She's naturally very strong."
Garofano indicated that three others lifters may also reach states: Ruby, Genuardi and Harris.
On Ruby, he said, "She's really improved her totals from last year. She's in the room every day."
On Genuardi, "She's really solid and fundamentally sound. Like Ashleigh (Ruby) she's been a fixture in the weight room," Garofano said.
On Harris, he added, "She just came off of cross-country, but she's got great technique. I look for big things from her."
Coach Garofano also praised his 88-pound freshman Kristina McCane's emergence.
"She has a dance background and is really strong for her weight," Garofano said. "She's also shown great technique and has picked up things very quickly. If she sticks with it, she could be another Monzo."
On the prospects of the county, "It's tough to tell right now without seeing everybody," forecasted Garofano. "I wouldn't count us out just yet. Some people thought we'd finish seventh in our district in football and look what happened.
"At this point, you have to pick Nature Coast because of all the returning kids they have," added Garofano.
On the District 5 Meet, "River Ridge, Sunlake and Citrus will all be up there," predicted Coach Garofano. "NCT has the individuals to score big points. Right now, I think we'll fall more into the middle of the pack."
Hernando head coach Casey Ellis opens her third season at Nature Coast on Nov. 28 with the largest roster she's ever attracted: 18 lifters.
Like Nature Coast, Hernando has four solid returning starters: senior Victoria Alderman and juniors Taylor Milligan, Cardeja Baylor and Lane.
Milligan is the Leopards' lone All-County selection from last winter.
Alderman, who had the misfortune of competing in Espinal's weight class most of last season, is a returning state qualifier. Alderman finished 18th overall at states at 169.
"Our greatest improvement has come from Victoria," acknowledged Coach Ellis. "It's like a light bulb went off with her. This year she's a different person – she wants this (state medal) so bad."
Lane tied Nature Coast's Davila at the county meet for first, but lost the tiebreaker.
Baylor also finished runner-up in the county meet to Barnett of Springstead by 35 pounds.
According to Coach Ellis the greatest improvement has been in the total number of lifters drawn to the sport.
"My numbers have gone up every year," pointed out Coach Ellis. "When it's all said and done we may get 21-22 kids out and that's great."
On her current squad, "I like the fact that we've got some depth," said Ellis. "Now, we have 2-3 kids in some of the weight classes and that builds competition. Right now, we only have two weight classes that we can't fill."
The team's greatest concern is "There's a lack of overall experience," she said. "The experienced kids will have to play a big part in us maturing as a team. The kids that we have are doing a good job. Now our job is keeping them in the sport."
County-wise, "I'd like us to place higher than we did last year (third)," noted Coach Ellis. "For us to do that, we've got to put up some good numbers. With Nature Coast and Springstead around, a lot of people may underestimate us."
On the District 5 Meet, "Our goal is to get as many kids as we can to states," indicated Coach Ellis. "If we get more than one, that'll be huge."
Weeki Wachee's preseason roster features 13 lifters, including four returnees.
Second-year Weeki Wachee skipper Mike Fye believes his squad is on the upswing.
Fye, who finished 0-7 last winter, replaced Mike Poyer. Poyer went 0-5 in the Lady Hornets' inaugural season in 2010-11.
Weeki Wachee is attempting escape the Hernando County cellar. It has finished fifth out of five teams over the past two county tournaments.
Fye is leaning on four junior returnees: Bailey Brannan, Amber Lake, Hannah Dennis and Taylor Collazo.
Collazo competed in 2010-11, but did not compete last winter.
Newcomers include: juniors Britany Koparan, Amanda Tost, Felicia Kelling and Sarah Robinson, sophomores Gabriella D'Alessio, Caitlyn Munson and Anatasia Papoi, and freshmen Calleigh Brannan and Katelyn Nelson.
"We don't have great numbers," lamented Coach Fye. "But this group is very passionate about the sport. They remind of the Central boys team I had a couple years ago. Overall, this group has a good work ethic.
"Our biggest concern is we don't have enough kids to fill all the weight classes," stressed Coach Fye. "It didn't help that we lost 80-90 percent of last year's roster."
On the team's main goal, "Our older kids have to lead. The younger ones have got to see what this sport is all about," noted Coach Fye. "That's why we purposely scheduled Citrus to open the season. We want our kids to see how a great team gets things done and how they perform under meet conditions."
On his team's roster, Coach Fye believes Lake could be the Lady Hornets' first-ever county champ.
"We may use her at 199 or heavyweight," described Coach Fye. "Right now, Amber's biggest hurdle is overcoming her difficulties with the clean-and-jerk. She's gotten better, but she needs more seasoning.
"We'll have a successful season if the kids stay healthy and learn as the season progresses," explained Coach Fye.
Central went 1-7 campaign in 2010-11 under Mike Einspahr.
A year later, Einsphar switched to guide the boys weightlifting team.
In the interim, Kim Berube guided the Lady Bears to a 3-6 campaign, including a fourth-place county finish last winter.
As of press time, Einspahr has returned to lead the Lady Bears' program.
Central's preseason roster tied Weeki Wachee with a county-low 13 lifters.
Central's two-time All-County selection K.C. Lane graduated last summer.
None of the Lady Bears' top six lifters from a year ago have returned.
Coach Einspahr did not return a call for this story.