Local powers looking at a run for survival
By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
LECANTO -- Survive and advance.
That, not winning, is the main objective Saturday morning for county teams in the Class 2A, Region 2 meet at Lecanto. Of the 12 squads in each field (boys and girls), only the top six qualify for state.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Lecanto girls coach Dan Epstein said.
Both divisions appear to be wide open, so much so the Lecanto girls and Citrus boys, teams with high hopes when the year began and annual area-powers, are not sure bets to reach state.
"There are seven very good teams in our region," Hurricanes coach Bruce Nelson said. "We've got to make sure we at least beat one of them."
That Citrus is a bubble team is news. The Hurricanes have advanced to state seven consecutive years. In those seasons, they won regionals three times and placed fourth at state three times (with a low finish of 13th). Last year Citrus was seventh.
Last week, however, the Hurricanes were a bit off.
In finishing third behind Hernando and Dunnellon in the District 3 meet at Lecanto, only senior Tony Lyons, the individual champ, had what Nelson considered a strong day. The coach expects better performances Saturday from Matt Baum, Kyle Helt, Justin Macdonald and James Lopiccolo.
"I thought we had more in the tank than what we showed," Nelson said. "Hopefully we'll show up Saturday and perform to our standards.
"We kind of ignore district week, and maybe we're too cocky. We train hard through districts then ease up this week to come back and peak. We were running a little tired (last week). Not real tired, but a little tired. I think we'll have fresh legs Saturday."
The Lecanto girls, despite having individual winner Deirdra Witherspoon and an eighth-place effort from Nicole Mailloux, were third behind Crystal River and Gulf at districts. In 2001 the Panthers won regionals and were ninth at state.
"I really thought we were going to win," Epstein said. "I knew Crystal River was close. I just didn't realize (the Pirates) were that close."
Epstein was pleased with the effort, but knows a better performance might be needed Saturday. Crystal River and Citrus, which was fourth at districts, are in the same boat.
The regional features seven state-ranked teams, including No. 4 Cocoa Beach, which has defending state champion Elynore Kabboord.
"The girls race is going to be a whole lot closer than the guys," Epstein said.
"It's unpredictable. When you look at the times (of teams from District 4), our times were faster and we ran on a harder course. It's tough to figure out."
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