The boys win the Gator Invitational while the girls finish second.
By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 8, 2002
SHADY HILLS -- Mitchell phenom Jeff Masterson and the Mustangs, ranked No. 4 in Class 3A by flrunners.com, easily won Saturday morning's sixth annual Gator Invitational at Crews Lake Park.
Enough about the boys already.
What's up with the girls?
That's where the action will be this season as Pasco County's elite battled in the first major meet of the season. The top five place-winners finished the 3.1-mile course within 38 seconds of each other.
Mitchell's Nicole Guercio won her first meet, taking the lead early and keeping it en route to a time of 19 minutes, 38 seconds -- 15 seconds better than runner-up Stephanie Amerman of Wesley Chapel.
"I've never felt this strong," Guercio said. "I felt steady and consistent."
Said coach Florie Buono: "I knew she had it in her. It was just a matter of her getting her confidence."
Land O'Lakes' Dani Shimer was third (20:02), River Ridge's Samantha Jacobsen, the reigning Sunshine Athletic Conference champion, was fourth (20:03) and Land O'Lakes' Jaime Myers was fifth (20:11).
Wharton, a late entrant, won the meet with 101 points. Second-place Mitchell finished just four points behind thanks to Erica Sloms (21:35), Brianna Dougherty (21:37) and Nicole Twombly (22:30).
Central was fourth with 127 points, led by Kerri Costanzo's 11th-place finish (21:03). Gulf was fifth with 132, led by Melissa Dattoli's eight-place finish (20:45). River Ridge was sixth with 149, led by Danielle Coyle, who finished 13th (21:24).
Land O'Lakes placed three runners in the top 14: Shimer, Myers and Christy Van Cleave (14th, 21:25). Sandy Ng placed 52nd, but without a fifth runner the Gators could not compete for team hardware.
Expect these Pasco County teams to continue battling in a season-long race.
"These individual girls and the three teams, Mitchell, River Ridge and Gulf, are going to be running a close race all year," Buono said. "And Land O'Lakes is only one girl away from the top spot as well."
Speaking of the top, there was no doubt who would be on it Saturday. Masterson entered ranked No. 7 in Class 3A by flrunners.com. He dominated from the start, taking the lead and fending off a challenge from Citrus' Tony Lyons to win by 19 seconds in 15:09.
That's 13 seconds off Masterson's previous best. The sophomore and defending SAC champion tried out his new-found aggressiveness on the course.
"I wanted to take the lead and put it away," Masterson said, "and that's what I did and I'm very happy about that."
Lyons said he did his best to give Masterson a race. The Citrus senior and runner-up turned in a personal-best time to help the Hurricanes to fifth place (139 points).
Mitchell's Danny Sheehan finished fourth (15:58), Brandon Steiner seventh (16:12), John Tuccio 10th (16:22) and David Stricsek 22nd (17:24) as the Mustangs won with 42 points, besting runner-up Largo by 20.
Sheehan, shaking off illness and allergies, complained afterward that he could have done much better. That led Masterson to predict big things for Sheehan in the next race.
"When Danny Sheehan doesn't feel comfortable running a 15:58, everybody should be scared," Masterson said.
Mustangs coach Bill Napolitano said he might have kept his runners from even better times.
"We've been over this course and I've been telling the guys all week that it's a slow course, so don't expect great times," Napolitano said.
"I really believe Masterson would have broken into the 14s if he would have known he could have done it."
Wesley Chapel's Kurt Able was third (15:49), David Forry eighth (16:14) and Jose Arroyo 21st (17:23) as the Wildcats finished in third place (127 points).
Central's Kurt Lee was ninth (16:20). Zephyrhills' Jose Espinoza finished 12th (16:41). Gulf's Jeff Hines was 13th (16:47) and Tom Accaria 14th (16:50), but the Bucs lacked enough runners to place in the team standings.
Danny Ayers finished 17th (17:01) to lead River Ridge to seventh place. Land O'Lakes' Mike Renteria was 19th (17:11) as the Gators placed sixth.