Leopards take HCAC title, twice

Distance prowess spurs Hernando's girls and boys to team wins.

Published March 24, 2006

BROOKSVILLE - Central hosted the second annual Hernando County Athletic Conference Championships on Thursday afternoon, but it was Hernando that ran away with top honors, thanks to its dominance in the distance events.

The girls and boys each finished first overall for the Leopards, with the girls winning a little more handily. Thanks to the performances of stars like Gina Potito, Valerie Blount and Emi Stephens, Hernando had a lot of breathing room in the final points standings. The Leopards ousted Central 111-82 for their second straight county title.

Potito won all four events she entered, becoming the only competitor to accomplish that feat since the conference's inception. She won the long jump (15-5.5) and high jump (5-0) for the second straight season, as well as the 110-meter hurdles (18.06 seconds) and 300-meter hurdles (52.12).

Blount joined Central's Lani Coates in the HCAC Championships to become the only four-time county champions. Coates took first in the discus again with a toss of 116 feet, 8 inches. Blount achieved another top finish in the shot put by launching it 36 feet, 8.25 inches. They were the only seniors to attain the milestone.

"I have been striving for this all season," Blount said. "Getting this last one meant a lot to me. Now I can focus on the rest of the year."

Stephens took care of the long-distance events for Hernando, claiming first in the 1,600 (6:04) and 800 meters (2:44). The Leopards' distance specialist takes over for Hernando alumnus Leela Hadsock, who took first in both of those events last season.

On the boys' side, Hernando had to wait until the last event to celebrate its county title, but the Leopards finally edged runnerup Springstead 92-80.

Ben Martucci won every event he entered, claiming his second straight county championships in the 800 meters (2:05) and 3,200 (10:54). He also took home a first-place ribbon for the 1,600 meters in 4:35, defeating his brother Andrew and third-place finisher Jacob Bess, the 2005 champion.

Widely considered the best athletes in the conference, Central's DuJuan Harris and Springstead's Mike King had their share of success.

King won his signature event, the 110-meter hurdles, for the third straight year. He also reclaimed the 200-meter title from Harris, defeating his rival in a wire-to-wire race.

Harris flip-flopped with King by taking the 100-meters title, stealing the crown King had taken in 2005. Both stars are in top form and are prepared for the stretch run as the postseason quickly approaches.

"Here we're rivals," King said, "but once we move on to districts and states, we both represent the county, and we support each other."

Nature Coast Tech's Mike Kursteiner swept the conference jumping events, taking first in the high, triple and long jumps. The triple and high jumps were repeat titles for the Sharks senior, but the long jump was the most gratifying after he scratched out during the event last season.