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Crystal River girls run off with title

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published November 10, 2002

LECANTO -- Two years after not having enough runners to complete a squad, the Crystal River girls placed three runners in the top 10 Saturday and claimed the district title.

"We didn't have anybody stand out, but they all ran well," Pirates coach Laura Shirley said. "I'm extremely happy. They've worked so hard and it's such a great group."

Crystal River, with 55 points, was led by freshman Holly Van Sicklen, who placed fifth in 21 minutes, 10 seconds. Other strong finishes came from Denise Jay (sixth), Mandy Smelko (ninth), Stephanie Bodden (13th) and Sally Neill (22nd).

"This will give us a lot of confidence," Jay said. "Everybody did real well. We've made a big improvement."

Gulf (59), led by Melissa Dattoli's second-place finish, was second, followed by other region qualifiers Lecanto (66), Citrus (114), Hernando (116) and Gainesville Eastside (134).

Lecanto's Deirdra Witherspoon (20:23) defeated Dattoli by 17 seconds for her first win this season. Witherspoon trailed early, but took the lead near the 2-mile mark.

"I felt great," Witherspoon said. "I was scared. After I got the lead, I heard footsteps the whole time."

Hernando won the boys title for the eighth time in coach Ernie Chatman's 21 seasons. The Leopards, fresh off a Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title, placed five runners in the top 20 to finish with 57 points, seven better than Dunnellon. Citrus (80) was third, followed by Lecanto (113), Wesley Chapel (113; placed fifth after tiebreaker) and Crystal River (131).

Five of Hernando's seven runners set personal bests. The Leopards were led by juniors Mike Laird (fourth) and Logan Emerson (sixth). Bret Chatman was 12th, Zachary Lukas was 15th and Philip Dysart placed 20th.

"We ran a lot better than I thought we might," Chatman said. "I'm pleased."

Hernando started slow, but picked it up after the first mile.

"I said, 'Guys, we've got to get a few people,' " Chatman said.

Citrus' Tony Lyons (16:06) led from the start to claim his second straight district title. He was pushed throughout by Wesley Chapel's David Forry (16:11).

"I ran pretty strong," Lyons said. "It was one of the better races I've run."

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