By GREG AUMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published August 30, 2001
BROOKSVILLE -- County teams can pursue district and conference titles this fall knowing they're going after two distinct goals this time around.
Last year, the two titles were essentially the same honor, with the only difference between the Class 3A, District 5 ranks and the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference being the presence of South Sumter in the latter.
But starting this season, the conference foes are to the north, the district opponents to the south, and the changes will redefine the biggest rivalries for Hernando, Citrus and Pasco counties.
Central and Springstead move up to Class 4A, District 6, where they'll battle Pasco County's Land O'Lakes, Mitchell, Ridgewood and River Ridge. Hernando remains in Class 3A, shifting to District 7 with five Pasco schools: Gulf, Hudson, Pasco, Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills.
So what does this mean?
Hernando and Central aren't district rivals for the first time since 1997, and both will be thrilled to know they don't have to get past Crystal River to earn a district title. It also means the longstanding Hernando-Pasco feud gets a much-needed boost, and Central and Land O'Lakes are developing a strong rivalry of their own.
The banter between the two counties should escalate as well -- they went head-to-head on five occasions last year, with Central dominating Land O'Lakes and Gulf, Springstead losing to the same two schools and Hernando getting humbled 35-7 by Pasco. In the past five years, Hernando County is 28-17 against Pasco schools, with each Hernando team posting a winning record.
This year, the counties square off 14 times, with district ramifications on the line in all but one meeting.
Another perk of the new alignment is that Hernando and Pasco counties will combine for at least four playoff teams. The combined record between the two is five schools, set in 1995 when Hernando, Central, River Ridge, Pasco and Zephyrhills all earned playoff spots.
For Pasco County, this year offers a chance at validation, at showing where the county stands on the North Suncoast after facing tough competition from Hillsborough County in recent years. Its eight schools last season were a combined 32-49, while Hernando's were 16-16, still good enough to edge Citrus' 14-18 mark as the area's best.
Pasco's record against Hillsborough opponents was 2-14, however, and if you take that away, their record is 30-35, much closer to the rest of the North Suncoast.