tampabay.com

Buccaneers aim for the top dogs

By ERIC MUSKATEVC
Published March 9, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - Colleen McAucliffe likes her little team, thank you very much.

And why wouldn't she. Sixteen girls may seem small in comparison, but the Bucs have made strides to uproot Wesley Chapel as the county's premier team.

And by gosh its fun.

"We do have a really small team," said McAucliffe, a 6-foot freshman. "When I got here I knew the team to beat was (Wesley Chapel) and Ridgewood. We're all getting better and having really a lot of fun."

McAucliffe was a county champ last year as an eighth-grader in the mile. Her 800-meter and mile times have kept her alive on the track, but coach Dean Lofton got her to try the triple jump and discus, and she placed second at last week's season-opening Chasco Invitational with a 72-11 toss.

That is why today's Suncoast Relays at Gulf, which start at 3:30, should be interesting. The fan favorite is a Throwers Relay. Two boys and two girls alternate in a team medley and all runners must have entered either shot put or discus. Seven teams are competing.

Lofton admits going from his consistently successful cross country season with the Bucs in the fall to track in the spring has been tough. But with just a smidgen of veteran leadership and a handful of first-timers, he's positive things are going in the right direction.

"Some come in here and can't walk and chew gum at the same time. Some get it the first day. Others it will take two or three years. We just hope they come out and stay," Lofton said. "I've been really happy with the way we've been running. A lot of good things are starting to happen."

When girls like McAucliffe and junior newcomer Jessica Peck do come out, senior Nikki Johnson makes sure they're working. "Whoever shows up, we just make sure they're trying their best," said Johnson, who finished second in the 100 meters and 100 hurdles at Chasco, both behind a Wesley Chapel competitor.

Johnson doesn't see herself as a natural athlete. Lofton has worked extensively on her technique, lead leg and her arm movement. She notched a personal best of 16.78 seconds in the hurdles last week with thanks to Lofton.

"I wouldn't be anything on the track if I had a different coach. I wouldn't be as good," Johnson said.