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Mustangs prove they're worthy of all the hype

By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

Mitchell coach Bill Napolitano knew his team would be good this season. Now he knows just how good -- along with everyone else.

The Mustangs justified the hype, as the No. 2 team in Class 3A finished seventh in the elite race of champions division at Saturday morning's Invitational at Polk Community College in Winter Haven.

Mitchell sophomore Jeff Masterson, ranked No. 3 in Class 3A by, finished fifth in the race of champions in 15 minutes, 59.83 seconds.

Danny Sheehan was 38th in 16:49.25. He cramped up after the first mile, but recovered in the final mile. He was followed by John Tuccio in 66th (17:21.99), Brandon Steiner in 69th (17:25.41) despite an earache and Rob Clendening in 97th (18:06.06).

"I think my guys believe in themselves a little bit more now," Napolitano said. "I think other people are going to believe in them a little bit more now. I'll tell you what's great about this team, every single one of them is critical of their own performance, and that's what makes them better.

"We've got our goal set on winning the state championship, Whether that's possible or not, we don't know. But we're getting closer."

The course was all grass and sugar sand, a pure cross country course run around the school that was just a tad beat-up from Friday's races. Conditions were cool for Saturday morning's races.

The top five individual boys finishers reads like a who's-who in Florida high school cross country: McClay's Ryan Deak, ranked No. 1 by in Class A, won in 15:23.34. Bisop Kenny's Ryder Leary was the runner-up (15:23.78). Ocala Vanguard's Steven Hassan, No. 1 in 3A, was third (15:31.74). In fourth was Flagler Palm Coast's San Vazquez (15:47.42), ranked second in 3A.

Masterson stayed with the pack through the first mile, then dropped off because he feared wearing himself down before the finish. But as soon as the race was over, Masterson told his coach he erred.

"He told me, "Coach, I was with them and I let them get away because I didn't want to lose anything at the end," Napolitano said. "At the end, he said he knew he made a mistake. He's a sophomore. He's young and he's learning. That's why they run these races."

Next time, Masterson said he'll stay with the pack for as long as it takes.

"That's what good runners do. They go out fast and separate themselves, and that's what I learned from my race."

Bishop Kenny won the meet, scoring 89 points. Winter Park, the top-ranked team in 4A, was second with 98. McClay, No. 1 in Class A, was third with 139. Flagler Palm Coast, No. 1 in 3A, was fourth (203). Nease, 2A preseason No. 6, was fifth (218). Gulliver Prep, preseason No. 2 in 2A, was sixth (240). Satellite, No. 8 in 3A, was eighth (257). Martin County, No. 2 in 4A, was ninth (259). Plant, No. 3 in 3A, was 10th (284).

More important for Masterson and his teammates, they saw first-hand main competition for a 3A state title: Flagler Palm Coast, Plant, Ocala Vanguard (finished 11th), Clay (12th) and Lakewood Ranch (13th).

"What a lot of good teams do at state is they just pack guys in," Napolitano said. "We need Sheehan to stay with Masterson longer and we need Steiner and Tuccio to stay with them longer.

"We've been put in a position as a team that we're one of the best in the state, and when you're in that position you've got to be strong all the way through."

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