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Runner of the year Witherspoon shows strong kick

Lecanto junior Deirdra Witherspoon overcomes a lingering cold to produce an impressive finish to season.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 8, 2002

LECANTO -- Deirdra Witherspoon got healthy, and hot, at the right time this fall.

A lengthy cold slowed the Lecanto junior part of the season. But when her lungs cleared, her times dropped and finishes improved. Witherspoon posted the area's best performances in district, regional and state competition to distinguish herself as the top runner in Citrus and Hernando counties. Lecanto was 15th at state.

Witherspoon was an all-area pick last season and has been among the county's best in each of her three years.

"I'm a lot better than I used to be," Witherspoon said. "I know what to expect, and my training is different. I try harder. My freshman year I was running just to run."

Now, she runs to win. With a strong work ethic and willingness to learn, Witherspoon had a memorable season. She placed second in October's Beat the Sheriff 5K in Inverness behind ex-teammate Amanda Howard (now running for Florida International), and at the county and Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meets to Crystal River ninth-grader Holly Van Sicklen.

Witherspoon got the better of Van Sicklen down the stretch. Not long after recovering from a cold, which caused her to miss one event and slow her a bit in others, Witherspoon earned her first victory of the season in the Class 2A, District 3 meet at Lecanto. She finished in 20 minutes, 23 seconds, well ahead of Gulf standout and runner-up Melissa Dattoli. "I felt great," Witherspoon said. "I was scared. After I got the lead, I heard footsteps the whole time."

Witherspoon performed well the following two weeks. In what was considered one of the state's strongest regions, her 20:38 was good for seventh, second-best among North Suncoast athletes. The next best showing by a Citrus/Hernando runner was 11th.

Witherspoon was 27th at state (20:30), 44 seconds better than anybody in the area.

All Citrus/Hernando Cross Country: Girls

ROXANNE CECCARELLI, SO., CENTRAL: Ninth at GCAC, 12th at region, 57th at state.

KERRI COSTANZO, SO., CENTRAL: Fifth at GCAC, 16th at region, 61st at state.

MAGEN LOEW, FR., CENTRAL: Fourth at GCAC, 17th at region, 67th at state.

NICOLE MAILLOUX, JR., LECANTO: Sixth at GCAC, 64th at state.

HOLLY VAN SICKLEN, FR., CRYSTAL RIVER: GCAC champ, fifth at district, 51st at state.

DEIRDRA WITHERSPOON, JR., LECANTO: Second at GCAC, first at district, 27th at state.

RUNNER OF THE YEAR: Deirdra Witherspoon.

COACHES OF THE YEAR: Juliann Davila, Central; and Laura Shirley, Crystal River. Davila guided Bears to conference championship and 16th in 3A as first-year coach, with assistance from boys coach Richard Ortiz. Shirley led Pirates to first state appearance since 1980s. They took 16th in 2A.

-- Compiled by Frank Pastor and Keith Niebuhr.

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