By WAYNE GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 3, 2000
LAND O'LAKES -- Ridgewood senior Jim Vitale has gotten used to chasing Citrus' Cory Presnick. The undefeated 1999 Class 2A state champion always pushed Vitale to his best race -- even if Vitale's best meant second place.
Presnick graduated last summer, leaving Vitale to push himself.
Vitale opened the season strong Saturday at the Gator Invitational at Crews Lake Park. Land O'Lakes senior Scott Habershaw jumped out to an early lead on Vitale in the first mile. But Vitale bore down and blew away Habershaw, winning in 16 minutes, 8 seconds -- 41 seconds ahead of Habershaw.
Vitale's strong showing wasn't enough to lift the defending state champions to the overall title, though. Central placed five boys in the top nine to pull away from the Rams 32-70, the first time Central has beaten Ridgewood for the first time since 1996.
Ridgewood's team of Lizzy and Lizzie grabbed the top two girls spots. Senior Lizzy Leigh finished in 20:03, four seconds ahead of junior teammate Lizzie Sheridan.
However, the Rams were unable to overcome defending meet champion Tampa Bay Tech. TBT placed five girls in the top 13 to outdistance Ridgewood 48-50. "I've been preaching the past two years that these girls need to work over the summer," Tampa Bay Tech coach Eli Thomas said. "The girls put in like 150 miles over the summer. All that hard work is paying off."
Central's Trevor Scales, who edged Mitchell's Dan Sheehan for third place, keyed the Bears' breakthrough win. Scales finished in 17:01, three seconds ahead of Sheehan.
Teammate Aaron Henley grabbed fifth in 17:08, and Ridgewood's Steve Mann took sixth in 17:14.
Wesley Chapel's Scott Sorenson and Daniel Fagan finished 10th and 11th, respectively, helping the Wildcats to a third-place finish with 98 points. Land O'Lakes finished fourth with 109 points as Bryan Gibbs and Ryan Hutson joined Habershaw in the top 16.
Gulf senior Barbara Carr could not catch Ridgewood's duo, finishing third in 20:20. Tampa Bay Tech junior Joyce Villanueva grabbed fourth in 21:00, and River Ridge freshman Danielle Coyle took fifth in 21:07.
River Ridge, keyed by Coyle and seventh-place finisher Melissa Tuccio, grabbed third overall with 82 points. Springstead's Lindsay Boldt finished eighth, helping her team to a fourth-place finish with 136 points.
South Sumter finished fifth with 169 points.