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Bears start from ground up

© St. Petersburg Times
published September 1, 2002

BROOKSVILLE -- Six of the top runners from last season's state-qualifying boys team graduated.

Jen Adams and Star Shiflett are gone from a girls squad that reached the regional meet. There are new boys and girls coaches, and the course got a facelift.

What's different at Central this season? A better question is, What's not?

The changes started in the spring, when Trever Scales, Joel Crandall, Aaron Henley, Adam Dixon, Joe Costanzo and Justin Wakeley -- the core of last season's conference championship and Class 3A ninth-place team -- left.

The losses became more difficult to absorb after others who showed potential did not stay out for the squad because of jobs or interest in other sports.

"Like everything else, you wish a lot of kids would have come out," boys coach Richard Ortiz said. "If kids would have stayed, we would have had a great team. But that's part of sports."

One holdover is senior Kurt Lee, who placed sixth in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference and 59th in the state and owns the school record in the pole vault. He was named a captain before this season.

"He's really the leader," Ortiz said. "Kids look to him for guidance, and he's filling that role. He's a good role model, a good student and a great athlete, so that always helps."

Ortiz, a former runner at Southern University, replaced Vic Cervizzi, who stepped down in May. Cervizzi, who coached 14 seasons and led the Bears to a state title in 1988, continues to teach physical education.

"If I have any questions, he's there for me," Ortiz said.

Ortiz performs a similar role for girls coach Juliann Davila. The ex-Citrus sprinter replaced Lisa Bilodeau in July, after the four-time GCAC Coach of the Year moved to Virginia with her husband, former boys soccer coach John Andruss. "(Ortiz) is very knowledgeable," Davila said. "I ran sprints in high school, but the fact he has all this knowledge with long-distance running, I'm learning a lot from him."

The coaching changes brought about others. Unlike past seasons, when the boys and girls teams trained separately and had their own schedules, the squads prepare together.

"I think it's great, because the girls are being pushed by the guys," Davila said. "If you don't have someone to push you, you aren't going to go the extra mile."

Another change was cosmetic. Because the FHSAA switched from three miles to five kilometers to meet national standards, the Bears' course had to be reconfigured slightly.

It meant cutting down trees and widening roads. But Ortiz didn't expect his runners to notice much difference.

"You're not talking about a great deal of distance so, for most kids, it's a psychological thing," he said. "These kids don't see it as a big deal. They don't train any different."

At least something stayed the same.

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