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Runner draws on emotion

Published September 28, 2003

BROOKSVILLE - This was not just another routine win for Jeff Masterson. Not after this week.

The Mitchell senior, ranked No.1 in Class 3A by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association poll, has dominated, and Saturday's Zak Lukas Invitational at Hernando High shaped up to be little more than another good training run for state.

But this week he got to know the late Hernando runner Lukas a little better through Lukas' mother. The two met at Bayonet Point Hospital, where Masterson's father is battling cancer.

Masterson was sitting in his father's room, researching legendary Oregon runner Steve Prefontaine for a school paper, when a nurse stopped by. The nurse was a runner and chatted with Masterson, who mentioned his upcoming race.

The nurse then summoned one of her colleagues - Karen Lukas.

"Within five minutes her, my mom and myself were crying. It was just a great experience," Masterson said. "I went home that night and said to myself:"There's nobody else in the world that should win this race.'

"Seeing my father in there ... I made my mind up that I was just going to be running out there for myself, Miss Lukas, Zak, my Dad."

Masterson said he approached the starting line imagining no one else was there. At the finish line, he didn't have to imagine. Masterson breezed to the win in 16 minutes, 2 seconds - 17 seconds ahead of Wesley Chapel's Kurt Able.

Finishing third in the humid morning was another Mustang, junior John Tuccio. His 16:52 finish lifted Mitchell to the boys team title with 84 points, 6 ahead of second-place Lecanto. Dunnellon and Estero tied for third with 140 and Hernando took fifth with 155.

Dani Shimer gave another strong effort in the girls race. The Land O'Lakes senior picked up her first victory with a personal-best 19:43 - 17 seconds ahead of River Ridge's Danielle Coyle.

"I just tried to go out really fast the first mile and I was just telling myself to hang on," Shimer said. "I was waiting for someone to come up on me, and they never did."

Lecanto's Taylor Cooke took third with a personal-best 20:09, and Wesley Chapel's Stephanie Amerman, ranked No. 6 in 3A in the FACA poll, finished fourth in 20:19.

Crystal River's Holly Van Sicklen finished fifth (20:37), but the two spots she finished behind Cooke proved significant as Lecanto won the team title with 76 points, two fewer than the Pirates.

"I didn't expect Crystal River to be that close, but they're coming on again," Lecanto coach Dan Epstein said. "They're one to watch."

The Zak Lukas Invitational was known as the Red Mule Invitational for 26 years, but was renamed to honor the Hernando runner and soccer player who died last year in a watercraft accident. The race was held at Hernando High for the first time instead of McKethan Lake Park, which continues to dry out from summer flooding.

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