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Gators' Bell pulls off upset

The junior helps Land O'Lakes take the boys title, while Wesley Chapel is the girls runnerup.

Published October 22, 2004

LARGO - The cheers started as soon as the runner appeared. The applause gathered force as the winner made his way to the finish line.

Then it got really loud.

That's when the crowd realized it was Steven Bell, and not Jeff Masterson, about to run away with the Class 3A, District 5 title.

Bell, the Land O'Lakes junior, won his first district championship in 15 minutes, 59 seconds at Taylor Park to end the Mitchell senior's run of consecutive titles.

Beating Masterson, Pasco County's top runner, has been a goal of Bell's for some time.

"I wouldn't say this is the highlight of my career," said Bell, whose sixth-place finish at state last year is a school best. "But it's been a personal goal of mine for a long time."

Bell also ended the Mitchell boys' two-year reign as district champs, leading Land O'Lakes to a 30-point win and the first title in the school's 29-year history. Mitchell's John Tuccio was third (16:46) but had to be hospitalized for severe dehydration after the meet, and Land O'Lakes' Steven Lang was fourth (16:59).

The Wesley Chapel girls also made history, as their runner-up finish was the best in their six-year history.

Bell gave up swimming to concentrate on his true sport after running in the Oct. 2 Zak Lukas Memorial Invitational.

"After the Zak Lukas race I wasn't really satisfied with how I was running," Bell said. "I kind of slacked off with the way I was running at the beginning of the season and I realized I had a lot of work to do if I wanted to run at the level I wanted to."

He's there now. He was eight seconds behind Masterson at the Oct. 14 Sunshine Athletic Conference meet. On Thursday, Bell led after a mile and never looked back, beating Masterson by 22 seconds.

Masterson may have burned himself out days before at the Rattlesnake Run. Now a runnerup (16:21) for the second time in his career, he was blunt afterward.

"It was a bad race because I gave up on myself," he said. "Before the race even started it was all mental, before I even came to the meet. I was just sick of the pressure, sick of running, sick of all these mixed feelings.

"The bottom line is I gave up on myself."

The Wesley Chapel girls' best showing came from an unlikely team. Patience Shackley (seventh, 21:56) and Janessa Gunn are freshmen, and Shackley and Melissa Sams (16th, 22:25) are track sprinters. Nonetheless the Wildcats were the runnerups, 57 points behind champion Largo.

"I'm proud of them," Wildcats coach Don Howard said. "We came in here figuring runnerup was the best we could do. I told the girls to let your training do what it's intended to do, and they did. Everyone ran great."

Everyone save No. 1 Stephanie Amerman, who was third (29:43), 51 seconds behind champion Ali Crabb of Lakewood and 35 seconds behind Amerman's district time last year.

"I ... don't even know what to say," Amerman said. "I don't know. ... I'm just having a bad day."

Central's Jacob Bess was sixth (17:27). The River Ridge boys were third, led by Brett Litak's ninth-place finish (17:32).

Also headed to next week's Class 3A, Region 3 meet at Lakewood Ranch are the Ridgewood and River Ridge girls and Wesley Chapel boys.

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