By WAYNE GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000
NEW PORT RICHEY -- Ridgewood's Lizzy Leigh and Jim Vitale took advantage of a familiar course Saturday, blowing away the field at the Ridgewood Invitational.
Leigh and Vitale smashed school records and personal bests.
"I've never known a course before. I could just lead right from the start," Vitale said of his time of 14 minutes, 34 seconds, which was 19 seconds better than the old school record.
"He is breaking practice records," Ridgewood coach Glenn Cable said. "He broke two school records in track."
Hernando's boys also took advantage of Ridgewood's mostly paved and fast course. All five Leopards finished in the top seven and smashed personal bests to pull away from defending state champion Ridgewood for the boys title 28-38. "It really doesn't surprise me. We don't usually race like this. We practice like this," Hernando coach Ernie Chatman said.
"Maybe we'll gain a little confidence."
Ridgewood's girls crushed the field, taking first through fourth. The Rams beat second-placed Zephyrhills by 45 points.
Leigh and teammate Lizzie Sheridan left the pack far behind at the start, but Leigh pulled away to finish in 18:59. Leigh set a school record even while stopping to tie her shoe.
"I felt like my shoe was going to fall off, so I had to stop (after the first mile and a half) and tie it," Leigh said with a laugh. "It only took me two seconds. Then it came untied again. But I just left it because I only had about a mile and a half left."
Sheridan and Leigh have made meets their own personal battle. Leigh has held off Sheridan so far this season, but the rivalry is more friendly than competitive.
"We definitely work with each other and help each other break our times," said Sheridan, who ran a personal-best 19:17. "Lizzy deserves every first place she gets because she works so hard."
Ridgewood's Angie Brunda and Meagan Keane grabbed third and fourth, respectively. Zephyrhills' Kristen Benedini, who took fifth, and eighth-place finisher Tabitha Masters helped the Bulldogs edge Hernando 61-64 for second. Hernando's John Emerson topped his personal best by more than a minute, finishing second in 15:33. Ridgewood's Steve Mann took third in a personal-best 16:19.
Wesley Chapel's Daniel Fagan and Hernando's Jack Baisley came in fourth and fifth, respectively.