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Ridgewood, Springstead renew 'chess game' today

By JAMAL THALJI

© 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 the 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 meet at Palm Harbor U. Stadium, and that means beating the Eagles.

History says it will be close. Consider the hotly-contested Ridgewood-Springstead meetings this year:

At the March 10 Bear Relays, Ridgewood edged Springstead at Central's Bears Den.

At the March 17 River Ridge Invitational at the Jim Valentine Athletic Complex, Springstead 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. Then again, it took the Rams six years to catch up. Springstead had won conference titles from 1990-96 until 1997, when Ridgewood took over the lead.

The Eagles had not beaten the Rams in three years until this season's River Ridge Invitational.

Last year, Ridgewood had to win the 3,200-meter race to edge Springstead for the district title. The week before at the SAC meet -- Springstead has since moved to the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference -- the Rams beat the Eagles by just a point at home at Ram Booster Stadium.

A hotly-contested point. An upset Hudson ordered his team onto the bus and quickly left.

Forget history, though. What has truly made these two teams rivals -- whether the coaches admit it or not -- is that they are the only game around. No other male track teams in the North Suncoast boast the talent, depth and state-qualifying potential of Ridgewood and Springstead.

The Rams have simply dominated the North Suncoast girls, as evidenced by 13 conference championships and 12 district titles.

But the boys division comes down to these two powerhouses. 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 and Scott Zoebisch has been dependable in the 400.

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 their own stellar line-up: 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 long, 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 and Kapp and the hurdlers could give it to the Rams.

"If I don't hold them off in the field events, they can get us in the distance events," Hudson said. "We've got to make them play catchup. He can place three in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. He could get 70 points in those three events."

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

A victory today would give Ridgewood its fourth district title. That's not nearly enough to satisfy Cable, though, who believes his crew has enough talent to win its first regional title and perhaps even a state title, given the right conditions.

- Staff writer Greg Auman contributed to this report.

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