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County's strength in numbers paying off

By KEITH NIEBUHR

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001


Freddie Bullock had five competitors and a mediocre team in her first season as Lecanto coach.

Eighteen seasons later, she's expecting up to 50 girls and a very good team.

At Citrus, coaches expect to have 65 girls on the team. Big numbers and good teams also are expected at Crystal River and Seven Rivers Christian.

Participation is high, as is the talent level.

See the connection?

"The more kids you've got, the more successful you are," Citrus girls coach Tom Darby said.

What Citrus County may lack in some sports, it makes up for in track and field, where there is a history of quality female athletes.

Citrus has been strong for years, Lecanto, under Bullock, has become a formidable team, and Crystal River has had its share of talent. Last year, Lecanto placed 19th at the Class 2A state meet; Citrus was 25th. Both teams have the potential to be better this season.

Even the fledgling program at Seven Rivers Christian has had some success and figures to have more this spring.

"I'll be honest, if you combined the best kids from Citrus, Crystal River, Lecanto and Seven Rivers, and we competed against other counties, we would hold our own," Bullock said.

There are several keys to Citrus County's success.

"I think the biggest thing I've seen over the years is that we've got quality people coaching in this area," Lecanto boys coach Ron Allan said.

"(Citrus coaches Darby and Bob Goddard) do an excellent job with the kids over there. Crystal River does a good job and Freddie does an excellent job."

Bullock, Darby and Goddard are coaching veterans.

When Bullock started Lecanto's program, the Panthers were a distant No. 3 in Citrus County behind Citrus and Crystal River. Today Lecanto is a perennial area-power.

Darby and Goddard have produced quality teams for years.

"We're always competitive," Darby said.

Crystal River was solid for several seasons but hit a bump in the road a few years back. Four years ago, the team ended the season with four girls.

The following year, Scott Thompson took over and the Pirates' numbers have steadily improved. This season, he hopes to end with 25-30 athletes. Several girls have the ability to reach the state meet.

The key for track coaches has been noticing the talent, getting the talent to go out for the team, and then making sure they enjoy the sport enough to stick with it.

"I'm always recruiting," Thompson said. "I go in the lunchroom and walk through and ask kids to come out. Every time I see them I hound them. And our girls have been getting out and recruiting themselves. That's another thing that's really helping me."

"We have 1,300 kids at our school and Bob (Goddard) and I make an effort to see as many kids as we can and I think that helps," Darby added.

Once coaches get an athlete to come out, they have to keep them there.

At Crystal River, Thompson said, the Pirates have one "fun day" each week, where his team plays basketball, soccer and other sports to keep fresh. Others schools have similar activities to mix things up.

"If you make it fun, you're more likely to have more participation," Darby said. "The bottom line is that it's not what you win, it's how many kids you get in the program. It's how many kids are getting something out of it.

"We're not just here for winning. We're here to get kids involved in athletics. The program is there for the kids."

For the fans

ADMISSION: Regular-season, TBA (varies by school); district meet, $4; regional meet, $5; Florida Finals, $6.

REGULAR SEASON: Meets begin Tuesday and conclude April 17. Teams may compete in a maximum of 15 meets.

CLASSIFICATIONS: Schools are divided by enrollment into four classes. The classifications range from the largest schools in 4A to the smallest in A. Citrus, Crystal River and Lecanto are in 2A; Seven Rivers Christian is in A.

POST-SEASON: District meets are scheduled for April 16-21. The first four placing individuals or relay teams in each event will advance to the April 26-27 regional meet. From regionals, the first four placing individuals or relay teams will advance to the Florida Finals in Coral Springs. The Class A finals are May 4; The Class 2A finals are May 5.

Citrus

f,COACH: Bob Goddard, Tom Darby.

2000 RESULTS: 25th at 2A state meet.

DISTRICT: 2A-5.

KEY LOSSES: Candice Wright (triple jump); Amber Presnick (distance).

KEY RETURNEES: Cindy Herndon, Sr., (pole vault); Melissa Davis, Jr., (sprints); Tiffany Davis, Sr., (sprints); Myesha Hollis, So., (sprints, long jump, triple jump); Amanda Yoder, So., (400); Lori Wyatt, Sr., (400); Shivela Rogers, Sr., (400, 800); Sally Lanigan, Sr., (discus); Andrea Burke, So., (distance).

OUTLOOK: Citrus got bad news when Presnick, who finished 12th in the 400 as a freshman last spring, opted to play softball. Also gone -- via graduation -- is Wright, who finished second at state in the triple jump. Nonetheless, the 'Canes should be strong. The top returning performer is Herndon, who was eighth at state in the pole vault with a vault of 8 feet, 6 inches. "I think she's going to be better this year," Darby said. Hollis is an emerging standout. She leaped 17 feet in the long jump last season and was one spot away from reaching state. Hollis also figures to make noise in the 100 and in the triple jump. Another strength for Citrus is its 4x100 relay team, which returns three of four runners from last season's regional qualifier. Lanigan was a regional qualifier in the discus.

Crystal River

COACH: Scott Thompson.

2000 RESULTS: No points at state.

DISTRICT: 2A-5.

KEY LOSSES: Nickie Brown (800, 4x400, 4x800)

KEY RETURNEES: Mandy Smelko, So., (distance); Jerrica Sawyer, Jr., (high jump); Stephanie Bernabe, So., (400); Jenny Callaway, Jr., (shot, discus)

TOP NEWCOMERS: Lisandra Vazquez, Jr., (distance, pole vault); Christa Taylor, So., (sprints).

OUTLOOK: The future looks bright for Crystal River. The present doesn't look all that bad, either. The Pirates are young (they have one senior), but should be competitive in Thompson's third season. Smelko finished ninth at state in the 1,600 last spring despite being injured for much of the season. She should be among the area's best in that event and also will figure prominently in the 4x400 and 4x800. Sawyer is another good one. She's back after qualifying for state in the high jump. The Pirates also expect some production from Vazquez, who will run the mile and 2-mile, and Taylor, who will run the 400 and 800.

Lecanto

COACH: Freddie Bullock.

2000 RESULTS: 19th at 2A state meet.

DISTRICT: 2A-5.

KEY LOSSES: Sara Hernandez (4x400); Melissa Kenney (distance); Marissa Flanagan (distance), Angie Berry (discus, shot); Laura O'Connell (discus, shot, pole vault).

KEY RETURNEES: Kylene Colasanti, Jr., (hurdles); Amanda Howard, Jr., (distance); Liz Witherspoon, Sr., (sprints).

OUTLOOK: Now entering her 18th season, Bullock has developed one of the area's strongest programs. Last season, Lecanto topped Citrus to win the district title, then had the county's best finish by a girls team at state. This year's team is young, but Bullock expects to have another good squad. The Panthers should be strong in the hurdles and in several sprint events, but have question marks in the field events, where graduation hit hard. Colasanti, the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference athlete of the year in 2000, was sixth in the 300 hurdles at state. Howard, also a standout in cross country, was 12th in the 1,600. Another performer to watch is Witherspoon, the team's lone senior. She qualified for state in the 4x400 last season. That team placed seventh. "It's too early to tell how good we'll be, but we'll be competitive," Bullock said.

Seven Rivers

COACH: Scott Lyons.

2000 RESULTS: No points at state.

DISTRICT: A-7.

KEY LOSSES: None.

KEY RETURNEES: Danielle Albury, So., (high jump); Rachel Ebert, 8th, (distance); Karissa Gandee, 8th, (distance); Samantha Julias, Fr., (distance, hurdles). OUTLOOK: Seven Rivers Christian should be the area's most improved team, but because most of the Warriors' athletes are playing other sports, practice has yet to begin. The third-year program is loaded with young, capable athletes. Albury, a standout volleyball and basketball player, has the potential to be one of the area's top high jumpers. She qualified for regionals in that event last season. Albury won't be able to join the team until basketball season is over, however, and that could be awhile. Ebert, who runs the mile and 2-mile and reached regionals in 2000, is another quality performer.

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