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Eagles-Rams track rivalry a dandy

By JAMAL THALJI and GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Forgive Ridgewood coach Glenn Cable if he's a bit distracted. It's Wednesday night and West Wing is on TV.

"The White House is having a media crisis," Cable said. "I would be watching it right now."

Instead, Cable is deftly deflecting a "media crisis" of his own.

Is Ridgewood-Springstead the North Suncoast's biggest track and field rivalry?

"Rivalries are fantasies of media-types," Cable said. "Do I really care (who wins)? I want to win, I like to see the (kids) win, I like to see them carry some momentum into regionals and state, because I think we have enough strong performers that we could take a shot at a state title."

But to prove they are state contenders, the Rams must first claim the crown at today's Class 3A, District 9 boys meet at Palm Harbor University stadium, and that means beating Springstead.

History says it will be close. Consider the Rams and Eagles meetings this year:

At the March 10 Bear Relays, Ridgewood edged Springstead at Central.

At the March 17 River Ridge Invitational at the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex, Springstead handily defeated Ridgewood 202 1/2-157.

At the March 31 Suncoast Relays at Gulf's Des Little Stadium, the Ram boys had two disqualifications and the Eagles slipped by to take first by 10 points 99-89.

At the April 7 Hernando Invitational at Tom Fisher Stadium, Springstead scored 139 to claim a 10 1/2-point victory over Ridgewood.

Eagles coach Fred Hudson can't deny the Rams are their top rivals.

"It's really been a chess game with (Cable) the last three years," Hudson said. "He's a good coach. I know I'm going to have to have the kids mentally prepared as well as physically."

Hudson is pleased Springstead has finally closed the gap on Ridgewood this season. Then again, it took the Rams six years to catch up to the Eagles. Springstead had won conference titles from 1990-96 until Ridgewood took over in 1997.

The Eagles had not beaten the Rams in three years until this season's River Ridge Invitational. Forget history, though. What has truly made these two teams rivals -- not that the coaches will admit it -- is that they are the only game around. No other male track teams on the North Suncoast boast the talent, depth and state-qualifying potential of Ridgewood and Springstead.

Consider the athletes each team will bring to today's meet:

The Eagles' Leon Hughes is a threat in the 110 high and 300 intermediate hurdles. Jay Trepen is a force in the triple and long jumps. Quinton Wallace and Ron Paulin have been dominant in the 100 and 200, while Scott Zoebisch has been dependable in the 400. Steve Ferguson is a quality high jumper.

Hughes, Trepen, Wallace and Paulin form Springstead's 4x100 team, and the 4x400 relay has John Dorritty, Chris Lossing, Andy Mikuski and Mike Richards.

To counter that, the Rams have Jim Vitale in the 1,600 and Eric Dieters in the 800; together with Jon Woods and Tim Masterson they form a formidable 4x800 team. Robbie Luka is one of the state's top long jumpers, and Shawn Kapp recently cleared 12 feet in the pole vault. Ridgewood's hurdlers, Chris Bopp, Rory Hart and Chris Vergnaud, also are reliable weapons.

"We went to the seed meeting," Cable said, "and that was pretty much it -- Ridgewood and Springstead seeded at the top of almost every event."

As has been the case all season, Springstead should dominate the sprints but Ridgewood will run away with the distance races. The field events are up for grabs, and strong performances from Luka, Kapp and the hurdlers could swing it in the Rams' favor.

Cable also will be happy not to see Citrus, which has cut into his distance points to Springstead's advantage. Hudson agreed.

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