Longtime 'Canes coach near end of line
By CAREY FREEMAN, Times Staff Writer
INVERNESS -- Ask Bruce Nelson to name the most memorable moment in his career and you won't get a single one.
Instead, he will mention a long list of experiences that spans 24 years of coaching and teaching at Citrus. But no area girls coach has been at his school longer. Not one has compiled as many wins. And few, if any, have as many memories as Nelson, whose affable demeanor and open fondness of students have made him one of the most beloved coaches in county history.
"It's been a real good experience," Nelson said. "We've been real successful the last 14 years, and I've been real happy doing it."
And why wouldn't he be?
Nelson, who turns 56 later this month, was there when the first female player in school history laced up her high-tops. He was present when Kristy White set scoring records and led the Hurricanes to a 1994 state final four berth. And Nelson, also a cross country coach, was there when Cory Presnick captured a state title in 1999.
But, after next year, Nelson may not be around Citrus anymore.
"I plan to retire after next year," he said. "We'll see. Maybe I won't have to.
"I'm very committed to this group of juniors," he said of his basketball players. "I have to retire after two years. ... And my last year of teaching I'm not going to coach basketball."
Given the circumstances, Nelson is hoping to make the most of his penultimate season and create at least one more memory to cherish.
But don't feel sorry for him if he doesn't. Nelson has plenty in reserve.
His career at Citrus began in 1977 when he coached the first girls team. He stayed in the job for seven seasons until he decided in 1984 to get his masters in educational administration at Florida State. Nelson couldn't stay away long, though. After taking a two-year break, he returned as an assistant in 1987 and took over as head coach in 1988 -- a position he has maintained since.
In that time, Nelson has compiled a county-best 281 victories -- the most recent one coming against friend and nemesis Ron Allan, who has been the Lecanto head coach since the school opened in 1984.
Some of Nelson's most memorable basketball moments -- barring a run to the final four this year -- came when he coached White from 1992-95.
White scored a county-best 2,198 points in her career and led the 'Canes to a state semifinal her junior season. White, who couldn't get Citrus past Rivera Beach Suncoast in the game, later played at Florida State.
"That was the nicest experience of my life, for sure," Nelson said. "Every coach wants to get to the final four and next to the state championship game. Getting to that level is something you dream about."
So is coaching your own.
In 1992, Nelson took over the boys cross country team and coached his son, Matt, who now is the University of North Florida captain. It was during Matt's tenure that Nelson became acquainted with Presnick, who went on to capture the Class 2A championship and lead Citrus to fourth in the state.
"Coaching Matt was one of the nice things about that," Nelson said. "A lot of his friends ran too, and I got to coach him and his friends all those years. As a coach, it was hard to beat taking your son and his friends to state three years in a row."
Nelson hopes to make a few more memories before its over. His runners, again, are poised to battle Florida's elite, including potential state champion Tony Lyons.
Then there's basketball, in which Nelson has put together one of his most talented teams but is stuck in a district with even tougher squads in Williston and Hernando. The Hurricanes are the third seed in the tournament and will have to beat Williston for the first time in three games this season to advance to the state playoffs.
"You've got to have people that can play, and we've got a couple of those people this year," Nelson said. "We've got a real good inside player in Meaggen (Anderson), Katie (Steelfox) is a great scorer and Lee (Alycia LePage) is a great passer. If we get Mo (Myesha Hollis) healthy, her and Brittney (Doyle) are great defenders.
"If we get out of this district, I think we can beat anybody," he said. "But Hernando and Williston are very good teams."
Either way, Nelson's impact has been felt at Citrus -- as a coach and teacher. Few are as well-respected and well-liked. Few will be as missed.
"Bruce is just a very nice guy who is compassionate," Citrus athletic director Vicki Overman said. "The kids know that. There's nobody who knows him without knowing how much he cares for the kids.
"I can't tell you how many times he and his wife have opened their wallets and house to kids who needed them."
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