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Bulldogs' Merson is taking aim at state title


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000

ZEPHYRHILLS -- Chris Bounnell, the Sunshine Athletic Conference coach of the year last season, is promoting another Zephyrhills lifter as a potential state champion.

Last season, Bounnell touted Chris Poe, who won a state crown in the 169-pound weight class.

Now, Craig Merson is the target of Bounnell's optimism. Merson hoisted a combined 630 pounds in last year's state meet, good enough for fourth as a 238-pounder.

Why not speak highly of a senior who set two personal bests this season? Merson has benched 380 and lifted 280 over his head. That 660 total is 20 pounds shy of Jimmy Lee's school record set in 1989.

Merson is among five state qualifiers from Zephyrhills, which last year won its sixth SAC championship and ninth conference crown overall (The Bulldogs also won three Gulf Coast Athletic Conference titles). The others are Josh Harrington, 119; Michael Perez, 139; Brooks Boyette, 183; and Len Sones, 238.

Zephyrhills earned bragging rights over arch-rival Pasco by winning the Palm Harbor Invitational. The defending champion Pirates finished second.

Merson, second in last year's Palm Harbor meet, won this time.

"Craig won this year, so I guess he avenged that," Bounnell said.

With the SAC meet set for April 8 at River Ridge, Bounnell said his team's confidence is growing. While he considers Zephyrhills and Pasco as leading contenders, Bounnell also is wary of Hudson, which qualified six lifters for the state tournament.

"I don't think Hudson's going to lie down," Bounnell said. "They've got some strong kids."

Pasco, which won the state championship in 1994, has qualified five lifters for the state meet: Wilbur Hobbs, 139; Bryan Wright, 183; Myron Hicks, 199; Dixie Cleveland, 199; and Daniel Stallings, heavyweight.

Stallings has combined for 630 pounds and his 390 bench is a school record. That bested David Shambeau's mark of 370 in 1998.

"He's a big boy," Pasco assistant Bobby Wade said. "He works out real hard in here."

Said Cleveland, "I kind of knew he was going to get (the school record). We all did."

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