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Girls track: Business as usual for Rams
By JAMAL THALJI
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 27, 2000
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ridgewood coach Sue Vien is tired of standing at the altar -- at regional track meets, that is.
"We've always been a bridesmaid," she said. "Never a bride."
This season, the confident Rams aim to walk down the aisle with a regional championship.
As usual, Ridgewood is armed with the talent, experience and history to do it.
"I'm confident in my kids and their abilities," Vien said.
"I think by the end of the season, they're going to have what it takes."
The Rams return Pasco County's best track and field squad, a team deep in every event and as determined as ever to add a 13th Sunshine Athletic Conference championship and 12th district championship to Ridgewood's already crowded mantle.
"We've got a great group of kids again," Vien said, "with a strong freshman group coming in. We sent 18 to regional last year, and we've got eight coming back from that team. I'm expecting them to do as good if not better and better.
"Our goal, of course, is to win the regional meet this year."
As always, the Rams have the talent to do it, starting with a core of returners from last year's state meet.
Katie Halkitis finished fifth at the state meet in the pole vault, and Sarah Shields also qualified for state in that event. Lizzy Leigh was seventh in the 800, and Jessica Penokie qualified for the 100 high hurdles at state, too.
Therein lies one of Ridgewood's advantages.
"Good leadership," Vien said. "The kids follow the leaders."
It explains the crisp pace of the Rams' daily practices, the attention to detail, the decided lack of slackers. Every day, everyone is following a precise workout routine, and no one is permitted to dog it or let up.
The faces change, but the pace remains the same. More so than sheer numbers or talent in any one event, what Vien likes most about her athletes is the versatility from event to event.
"I don't have just one type of runner or three or four good at any one thing," she said. "I have a mass of girls who can do anything and do it well."
Is it all those championships that motivates the girls every season?
"I don't know how many of them even know about (the titles)," Vien said. "We don't think about that. We just accept that we're going to go out there and be the best we can be and then come home."
Halkitis, who along with Tyler Webber was voted team captain, said there's more to the tradition than winning. The Rams try to uphold a tradition of hard work.
"What motivates us, I think, is just that's the way we practice every day," she said. "We work hard."
Vien said that attitude has become ingrained.
"Having a successful program all these years really breeds an attitude," she said, "that when they come out here, they're serious about this. It's just a given, and the fact that they take that challenge and do it is not only the amazing thing. It's also important to them.
"They work hard. Really hard. The credit goes to them for taking the challenge."
Vien would add one important ingredient: leadership.
"We've raked in awards and honors, but that's not everything," she said. "The young ones follow, and they have good examples (in the upperclassmen.) That is the most important thing. When you're told to do something, you do it.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.