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Carr makes history with victory

The Gulf senior becomes the second four-time winner while Ridgewood's Jim Vitale wins the meet for the first time.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 22, 2000


NEW PORT RICHEY -- Gulf coach Dean Lofton had just one request of his best runner -- go out hard and fast and take the fight out of the field.

So Barbara Carr did just that, running with Ridgewood's Lizzy Leigh for the first mile and then running away from her the last two as the Buc senior won the Sunshine Athletic Conference girls individual championship for the fourth consecutive year Saturday at Ridgewood. "I pretty much knew she was in control," Lofton said. "At the mile (into the race), I knew it was hers."

Carr was joined as individual champion by Ridgewood senior Jim Vitale, who won his first SAC boys title, and the Rams swept the team competitions.

For the boys, it was the 10th team title in 10 years of the SAC's existence while the girls won their eighth championship.

The star of the show, however, was Carr, who became the second four-time SAC winner, joining former River Ridge standout Jacki Waller.

Though the move from the sandier Starkey Park course, where the meet was held the past three seasons, to the easier run on the Ridgewood campus was expected to favor Leigh, it was hardly the case. Carr was in control the entire way and was not threatened once she took the lead, finishing in a career-best and SAC record 18 minutes, 43 seconds, more than a minute better than the record she set last year.

"There was probably a little bit of a home-course advantage. There were a few parts where she took a corner and got me a little bit," Carr said. "It's nice to know that I can do this on any course and it's not just a Starkey thing and just because I can run in sand.

"I know Lizzy likes to go out faster than I do, and I knew I had to stay with her so I could pass her later."

Though Carr has said in recent days that she was merely interested in running a good time, Lofton said that was just a smoke screen.

"She wanted this. This was a definite goal throughout the season," he said. "She was a little quieter than she usually is (this morning). She had a look in her eyes."

Leigh, a senior, followed Carr to the finish line in 19:12 while Gulf's Cindy Wade was third in 19:24.

Because the Rams had the slightly better pack, they emerged with a narrow 39-41 win, the closest margin since Ridgewood beat Gulf by one point in 1993.

Though Carr and Wade had given the Bucs an advantage with their finishes, the Rams' Angie Brunda, Meagan Keane and Michelle Cotharin scored 9, 10 and 13 points to wipe that out.

Gulf's Melissa Datoli, Dawn Selvidge and Christina Angeillo scored 11, 12, and 14, a five-point difference. As usual, the boys race was not close as the Rams outdistanced runner-up Land O'Lakes for the third consecutive year, winning 27-71.

But Vitale, whose winning time of 15:17 was second-best in SAC history but a school record for the race, and Gator senior Scott Habershaw provided the drama by dueling the entire race.

Habershaw gave Vitale his first tough local race of the year and seemed more than happy to take second because he achieved his goal of breaking the Land O'Lakes school record with a 15:19. Upon finding out, he leapt into the air and hugged Vitale twice while thanking him.

"Some people didn't think I could break the record," said Habershaw, who also swims for the Gators. "Last night, I was even doubting myself. I figured I'd just go for the top five.

"Jim must have said "I'm going to be a real nice guy and pace him.' He has his school record, and he helped me get mine. I owe him that record. I am just so happy."

Vitale, who made a wrong turn that cost him approximately 40 spots early in the race, sprinted back to the front and led the rest of the way. He said he was happy Habershaw got his record, but it was no act of mercy.

"He was tough," Vitale said. "He just stayed with me."

Habershaw still thinks Vitale, if he had his druthers, could have pulled away at any point.

"He usually leaves me in his dust," Habershaw said. "After the first mile, I was just thinking this is unusual. I knew he was going to kick it in at some point. He's got the best guts I've ever seen. I'm just glad he waited until the last minute to do it."

Vitale, who won his first SAC title after taking second last year, led an impressive Ram charge. Steven Mann finished third in 16:21. Chris Vergnaud was fifth in 16:33, and Francis Casey was seventh in 16:41 (but earned six points because Chris Hurtado of Hudson, which did not have enough runners for a team score, fishished sixth).

The top 14 finishers in each race earned all-SAC honors. First-year Mitchell picked up the first two all-conference patches in school history as Danny Sheehan was fourth in the boys race and Nicole Guercio was ninth in the girls race.

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