tampabay.com

County waits for next big thing to hit the track

By DEREK LARIVIERE
Published March 9, 2007


The first individual state title winner to reside in the county in a long time just departed in Nature Coast's Mike Kursteiner. Waiting in the wings is the next batch of state hopefuls, led by Central's DuJuan Harris. Questions surround this track season for almost every program.

Which athlete has the potential to deliver the way Kursteiner did last season in the high jump? Not since 2003, when Central's Kurt Lee took home the pole vault title, has a county athlete accomplished what Kursteiner did.

Here are some of the questions surrounding the top athletes and where they stand early in the season.

CAN HARRIS DELIVER ON HIS STATE TITLE GOAL BEFORE GRADUATING?

For years Harris had a healthy rivalry with Springstead's Mike King. The two, despite being from rival schools, were good friends off the track and encouraged each other. Things could go one of two ways this season with the graduation King.

Harris, or "Foxx" as his friends and family call him, will not have as difficult a road through local competition in the long and triple jumps as in the past. Besides losing King, Land O'Lakes' Julius Philpot, Harris' top competition in the district, also left school.

The importance of mental strength for the Troy (Ala.) football recruit will be tested this season, especially if he goes untested until the postseason.

On the other hand, Harris may not get burned out before regionals, allowing him to save his best performances for the big stage.

CAN THE HERNANDO DISTANCE RELAY TEAM DELIVER A STATE TITLE BEFORE THE MARTUCCIS GRADUATE?

For coach Ernie Chatman, there have been few thrills as big in his long career as mentoring Ben and Drew Martucci, twin brothers who have dominated the area the past few seasons in both cross country and distance track. Even with that dominance, the Leopards have fallen short of state gold.

The program's best chance to remedy that is here and now. The 3,200-meter relay squad made up of the Martuccis, Justin Owens and Jacob Bess finished third in Class 2A last season behind Jesuit and Cocoa Beach. Jesuit, another distance powerhouse, has stood between Hernando and state titles for years.

Replacing Bess and Owens, both graduated, are a plethora of runners including Thomas Mountain, Tyler Champagne, Chris Martin and Tyler Baldwin. Chatman believes the current squad, regardless of the eventual make-up, is more than capable of delivering.

IF THE LEOPARDS CAN'T TAKE THE RELAY, IS THERE STILL A CHANCE FOR HERNANDO STATE GOLD?

Ben Martucci took third overall in the 3,200 at state last season also. The kicker is he only finished behind two seniors. If he performs to expectations, he could easily grasp a gold medal before his time in high school is through.

Whether he is the favorite for such a run is debatable.

Many believed Martucci would be the favorite for an individual crown during the state cross country meet, but Phillip Woerner of Gulliver passed him in the final race, beating him by 20 seconds.

WILL TAYLOR TUOMEY BECOME ONE OF THE ELITE FEMALE RUNNERS TO COME THROUGH THIS COUNTY?

Springstead's rising star burst onto the scene as a freshman, anchoring the 1,600-meter relay team. Along with underclassmen Lindsey Kuhn, Caroline Monzo and Brittany Morrisey, the Eagles have the foundation for success for years to come.

Tuomey, by far the fastest of the foursome, anchored the team and was capable of making up some healthy gaps on her final lap around the track. If she continues to improve, Tuomey should shine as a threat in middle-distance events.

With these possibilities on the horizon and Central's Jesse Hartman and Jasmine Hudson, Hernando's Anna Gray and Springstead's Alex Oliver prepared to be forces themselves, several county athletes could make their mark this season.

Fast Facts:

Team Capsules

Central

Boys coach: Eric Milholland (third season)

Girls coach: Erin Courtney (second season)

2006 results: Fourth in district 3A-7 (boys); fourth in district 3A-7 (girls)

Returning standouts: DuJuan Harris, Jesse Hartman, Jen Mihok, Liz McGeehan, Jamie McCarter, Ashley Tombrink, Jasmine Hudson

Outlook: Welcome back to Harris for the final time in his prep career. The Troy football recruit has a somewhat easy path locally as his top competition from a season ago, Springstead's Mike King and Land O'Lakes' Julius Philpot, have graduated. The girls will miss the throwing of Lani Coates, but Courtney is a young coach who relates well to her team. The Bears should do well both in and out of conference competition. Hartman, with his throwing prowess, is one of the top field athletes in the area. Milholland and Courtney are both distance running gurus, so Central should improve in that area.

Hernando

Boys coach: Ernie Chatman (fifth season)

Girls coach: Rodney Byrd (fifth season)

2006 results: Fourth in district 2A-9 (boys); fifth in district 2A-9 (girls)

Returning standouts: Ben Martucci, Drew Martucci, Chris Martin, Joe Wright, Thomas Mountain, Tyler Baldwin, Anna Gray, Gina Potito, Rhynne Ledington, Emi Stephens

Outlook: Hernando's legendary distance running program should not lose a step in the final campaigns for Ben and Drew Martucci. State qualifiers in both individual and relay events, the twins anchor a strong corps of distance athletes. Potito will be the shining star for the girls. The junior was arguably the best all-around track athlete the program had last season as she performed admirably in the high jump and hurdles events. The girls will sorely miss the strong arm of Valerie Blount, who set school records with her shot put launching.

Nature Coast

Boys coach: Ryan Wilson (first season)

Girls coach: Maria Garcia (first season)

2006 results: Fifth in district 2A-9 (boys); eighth in district 2A-9 (girls)

Returning standouts: Preston Williams, Rashad Terry, Alex Mason, David Garton, Candice Lopez, Casey Palaez, Brittany McDonald, Danielle Eckart, Lauren Szudarek

Outlook: The program loses arguably the best track athlete in school history with Mike Kursteiner's graduation. The jump specialist took the state championship in the high jump last season, marking the only time a Nature Coast athlete has won an individual state title in any sport. But the influx of young talent continues on the track for the Sharks as it does with every other sport on campus. Lopez, who shined in her first season in cross country, also will make her mark in track. Mason and Garton should be the vocal leaders of a budding boys team. Garcia and some other assistants have been involved in the program before this season, so the staff is not as new as it may seem.

Springstead

Boys coach: Fred Hudson (22nd season)

Girls coach: Keith Tinknell (second season)

2006 results: Fifth in district 3A-7 (boys); seventh in district 3A-7 (girls)

Returning standouts: Alex Oliver, Jason Haynes, Jeff Haynes, Steve McManus, Ethan Selph, Taylor Tuomey, Jen Knoer, Rachel Dyer, Brittany Morrisey, Lindsey Kuhn, Caroline Monzo

Outlook: The Eagles lose Mike King, one of the top track athletes to come through the county. But the girls return Knoer and Tuomey. Knoer qualified for states with her high jump performance last season and is only a junior. Tuomey, coming off a stellar freshman year, will again anchor the middle distances for Springstead. As the anchor of the 4x400 relay last season, she frequently brought the squad back with her final sprints. The boys will rely heavily on Oliver and the Haynes brothers. Oliver, like Tuomey, is brilliant in the middle distances.

Districts

3A-7: Springstead, Central, Wesley Chapel, Land O'Lakes, Gulf, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Hudson

2A-9: Nature Coast, Hernando, Pasco, Zephyrhills, Berkeley Prep, Academy of Holy Names (girls), Jesuit (boys), Robinson, Tampa Catholic