Springstead's reign as girls cross-country county champions ended with a thud Thursday during the annual Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic.
Not only did short-handed Nature Coast fulfill its high preseason expectations by denying Springstead a four-peat, surprisingly so did Hernando.
On a muggy afternoon at McKethan Lake, Lecanto claimed the tallest trophy for the females in the annual seven-team race with a 37-51 nod over Nature Coast.
The Lady Sharks were followed by Crystal River (54), Hernando (117), Springstead (139), Central (151) and Citrus (155). Weeki Wachee did not have enough runners for a team score.
Similar to their male counterparts, the Lady Sharks hadn't hoisted the tallest trophy at a meet since opening the season with an impressive win in the 22-team Lecanto Invitational.
Since that Sept 8 victory, the Lady Sharks had been victimized by injuries. How much so?
Two thinclads – Alyssa Deligio and Kaylee Arvay – had not competed since that race.
Both, however, played integral parts by returning in Thursday's meet.
Arvay and Deligio were critical components after the Lady Sharks entered the meet minus three of their top runners: Crystal Burchhardt, Brielle Perlingieri and Briana Horn.
Horn turned an ankle last week and missed her second straight meet. Her status is unknown for next week's district meet in Lake County.
Burchhardt and Perlingieri both compete on the Lady Shark swim team and were at districts on Thursday – thus unavailable.
Leading the way to the finish line was freshman Alexa Lacy, who placed fifth in the 57-member field in 20:33.06. She just missed matching her personal-best 20:29.30.
After Lacy, junior Mary Thomson was sixth in 20:36.43 followed by freshman Summer March in ninth (21:21.70), Arvay in 14th (22:17.94) and Deligio in 17th (22:26.46).
"I thought we all did great as a team," noted the 14-year-old Lacy, continuing on about the warm weather conditions. "As long as the sun is not beating down on us, I'll run in anything.
"Today was a step toward our final goal," pointed out Lacy. "I just wish all of our other runners could have been here."
"We've been working very hard for this (county championship)," emphasized the 16-year-old Thomson. "Even with all the injuries we've been doing good. I just hope we keep it going."
Nature Coast mentor Eric Milholland could not believe his good fortune to walk away as county champs despite competing with only five healthy runners.
"We just needed the girls we had today to finish," smiled Milholland. "It's pretty tough going into any meet without three of our top runners. It was great to see the girls who had been injured return and contribute. I think the girls ran inspired."
On the team's overall success, "Lacy's been upfront all season long. She doesn't run like a freshman," noted Milholland. "Thomson was a pleasant surprise today. And our other freshman, Summer March, has really come a long way since the beginning of the season.
"But we could not have won without either Arvay or Deligio competing today."
Thursday's race marked the first meet that Springstead sophomore Tiana Newton had been beaten by a county opponent.
Newton, Hernando Today's defending Runner of the Year, competed despite turning an ankle last weekend.
Despite competing with a bulky ankle supporter, Newton managed to finish 12th overall in 22:12.06.
"Today was one of my worst days," lamented the 15-year-old Newton, with an ice bag on her injured ankle. "It wasn't a good day at all. I pushed as hard as I could. We're kind of banged up right now; we could use a couple days off."
On next week's goal, "I'm very angry at what happened today," said Newton. "I want to heal up and get back at it next week."
Hernando's first-year skipper Kevin Bittinger could not believe his Lady Leopards' good fortune of placing second in the county.
"No one would have thought this (Hernando beating Springstead) at the beginning of the season," pointed out Bittinger. "We've gotten better and better as the season has progressed. I'm really proud of these girls. A lot of their hard work is starting to pay off.
"It's no secret that Nature Coast is the class of our county," stressed Bittinger. "But for us to get second – we're doing what we need to do to get better."
The Lady Leopards were led by sophomore Cindy Cacares. Cacares shattered her previous personal best of 22:42.71 by nearly 17 seconds behind a 16th-place 22:25.72 clocking.
2012 Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic
at Brooksville's McKethan Lake
1. Lecanto (LEC) 37, 2. Nature Coast (NCT) 51, 3. Crystal River (CR) 54, 4. Hernando (HER) 117, 5. Springstead (SPG) 139, 6. Central (CEN) 151, 7. Citrus (CIT) 155, 8. Weeki Wachee (WW) NTS
Top 10 individuals
1. Alyssa Weber (CIT) 19:54.43, 2. Chloe Benoist (LEC) 20:06.83, 3. Claire Farnsworth (LEC) 20:07.06, 4. Chloe Lane (CR) 20:24.71, 5. Alexa Lacy (NCT) 20:33.06, 6. Mary Thomson (NCT) 20:36.43, 7. Clarissa Consol (CR) 21:13.05, 8. Katie Mattingly (LEC) 21:16.68, 9. Summer March (NCT) 21:21.70, 10. Elizabeth Bruty (CR) 21:55.65
NATURE COAST (51) – 5. Alexa Lacy 20:33.06, 6. Mary Thomson 20:36.43, 9. Summer March 21:21.70, 14. Kaylee Arvay 22:17.94, 17. Alyssa Deligio 22:26.46.
HERNANDO (117) – 16. Cindy Cacares 22:25.72, 20. Tabitha Loose 22:36.14, 24. Dominque Reyes 23:17.57, 27. Ashley Morris 23:49.69, 36. Kendall Raney 24:42.11, 41. Berkely Laporte 25:15.87, 42. Breanna Wardlow 25:18.11, 48. Heaven Benson 26:33.96, 52. Carolina Stokeley 27:37.70.
SPRINGSTEAD (139) – 12. Tiana Newton 22:12.06, 22. Alexandrea Zieman 23:06.52, 34. Alyssa Menendez 24:33.28, 43. Kayla Brittain 25:34.04, 44. Ty'Rhonza Harris 25:44.29, 46. Wilena Little 26:05.84.
CENTRAL (151) – 23. Makayla McKenzie 23:16.92, 32. Taylor Gray 24:26.85, 38. Jenna Barbee 24:46.85, 39. Nicole Carrier 24:47.13, 40. Tayler Asher 24:55.86, 47. Jessica Prill 26:12.76.
WEEKI WACHEE (NTS) – 26. Brianna Boswell 23:40.31.