Central High School
TONY CASTROTime is running out for three or possibly four female cross-country teams from Hernando County.
Published: November 2, 2012
Published: November 2, 2012
Two meets – Friday's Class 3A, District 6 at Crews Lake and Saturday's Class 2A, District 6 at Mount Dora Bible – will decide whether the curtains come down.
Team-wise, Nature Coast and Hernando appear to have the finest chances of advancing to the Nov. 10 Class 2A, Region II Meet at Lake Nona.
To get there, Nature Coast will have to do something it has never achieved before – capture a district title.
In nine previous seasons, Nature Coast finished as high as second in districts in 2011. The only problem with second: The Lady Sharks were looked as district frontrunners last fall.
This season, under the leadership of first-year skipper Eric Milholland, the Lady Sharks have responded like never before.
Nature Coast has posted seven top 10 finishes in eight meets – highlighted by a win in the season opener at the Lecanto Invitational and capturing the Hernando County championship.
With the exception of juniors Brianna Horn (ankle injury) and Kaylee Arvay (not enough meets to qualify for the state series), the Lady Sharks appear at full strength.
After Springstead sophomore Tiana Newton, the Lady Sharks have compiled the next eight fastest 3.1-mile times this season, featuring: junior Crystal Burchhardt (20:28.60), freshman Alexa Lacy (20:29.30), junior Mary Thomson (20:36.43), senior Brielle Perlingieri (20:54.69), freshman Summer March (21:21.70), Horn (21:30.39), junior Alyssa DeLigio (22:00.75) and Arvay (22:17.94).
How optimistic is Coach Milholland on the Lady Sharks' prospects for their first-ever district title?
"The group I saw run this week will win districts and regionals," predicted Coach Milholland. "I realize we'll be on a tough course on Saturday, but our girls are ranked as the number one team in our region. I have no doubt out our top six could all receive medals for placing among the top 13."
The defending districts champions from Tavares are expected to provide the closest battle for the biggest trophy.
Third place, however, appears to be a coin flip between Pasco and Hernando.
Coming in, Hernando has reached regionals as a team in eight of the past 10 years.
According to the Lady Leopards' fifth coach in five seasons, Kevin Bittinger, "It'll all come down to who shows up on Saturday. Nature Coast is hands down the team to beat. Tavares beat us when we went head-to-head and I think anything can happen when we go toe-to-toe with Pasco."
On the team's season, "This team started behind the eight ball," pointed out Coach Bittinger. "I'm a new coach to the sport. I marvel at where this team was when I took over and where it is now."
On Mount Dora Bible's hilly terrain, "What I like most is we train on hills every day at Hernando," noted Bittinger. "Saturday will be like running on North Avenue. I really think third place is obtainable. I can't see why we can't advance. It'll be close, but I think you'll see us in regionals next week."
The Purple and Gold is led by sophomore and first-year runner Cindy Cacares. Cacares arrives in Lake County ranked 10th in the latest Hernando County Honor Roll with a team-best 22:25.72.
There is a distinct possibility neither Springstead nor Central will advance past today's loaded 3A-3 Meet at Crews Lake.
The three-time Hernando County champion Lady Eagles were ambushed last week during the Hernando/Citrus Distance Classic.
Not only did Nature Coast earn its first county crown since 2007, but Hernando edged Springstead for second.
A general lack of depth, along with injuries and sickness, has hindered the Lady Eagles' progress this season.
To compound matters, the county's defending Runner of the Year, Newton, will be a game-time decision on whether she'll compete.
Newton, who has posted a county-best 20:22.64, rolled an ankle last week and missed practice time this week.
According to skipper Joel Myers, Newton has spent the majority of time in therapy doing bike work and working out in a pool.
"Tiana's still hurt," lamented Myers, who is in his sixth year at the helm and is the reigning Hernando Today Coach of the Year. "She tried to run on Monday and she couldn't. Hopefully, the bike work and the pool will keep up her endurance. It's the best we could do under the circumstances."
On the loss of the county's fastest runner, he said, "She hadn't lost to anybody from the county until she turned her ankle two weekends ago. Even with a healthy Newton we had no shot of getting out of districts. This district is absolutely loaded.
"The good thing is the landscape changes next year."
Myers believes Wiregrass Ranch will repeat as district champion while Sarasota, Lecanto, Belleview and Mitchell slug it out for the three remaining regional berths.
Central, with its fourth coach in four seasons (Jennifer Adams), is attempting to improve on its eighth-place finish out of 10 teams last fall at McKethan Lake.
The Lady Bears are paced by ex-Eagle Jenna Barbee.
Barbee, who was rezoned in the offseason, arrives ranked the highest among the Lady Bear runners in the latest Honor Roll in 12th place behind a 22:35.81 clocking.