By STEVE LEE and MIKE READLING
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 12, 2000
WINTER HAVEN -- The Ridgewood boys took another stride toward defending their state championship Saturday, placing fourth at the Class 3A, Region 2 meet at Polk Community College.
The Gulf girls, who won the district title, took fifth and will join the Rams in Saturday's state championship in Titusville.
Flagler Palm Coast won the boys race, and Plant won the girls. Ridgewood's Jim Vitale was the runner-up to Palm Coast's Matt Ciancuilli for the second consecutive race, finishing in 15 minutes, 38 seconds to Ciancuilli's 15:13.
Vitale finished second to Ciancuilli, the state's top-ranked runner, on Nov. 4 at the District 3 meet.
"He's definitely the best runner I've run against," Vitale said.
Vitale and Ciancuilli sprinted ahead of the pack Saturday before Vitale dropped back a few steps at the midway mark of the 3-mile race.
"We went out pretty hard," Vitale said. "At the mile and a half, I kind of slowed down a little bit.
"I tried something new. I was going to try to catch my breath, rejuvenate in the middle of the race."
Seven days after finishing second to district champion Kay Lennon of New Smyrna Beach, Gulf's Barbara Carr crossed the tape behind Lennon again.
Carr placed sixth in 19:29, seven seconds behind Lennon.
"I was closing on her," Carr said. "She was slowing down a little bit. We both kicked it in down the stretch. I just couldn't close the gap."
Carr will make her fourth appearance in the state meet, and the senior said she plans on capturing a second top-20 finish. She placed 27th last year, 20th as a sophomore and 24th as a freshman.
"I'm not just hanging on the edge, just making states," Carr said.
Two Land O'Lakes runners qualified for state by being among the top 15 in their respective races.
Scott Habershaw ran eighth in 16:10, and Debera Mann was 12th in 20:11.
Habershaw is the first Land O'Lakes runner to qualify for three state meets. Lee Stephens, whose school records were broken by Habershaw earlier this season, qualified twice.
Habershaw has broken the 16:00 barrier four times this season, but the senior competed in a district swim meet Friday.
Gators cross country coach Kris Keppel said she was unconcerned with Habershaw's drop-off. "He'll get more rest this week," Keppel said. "He just wanted to qualify."
Mann is the first female runner from Land O'Lakes to earn a state berth as a junior.
Kristy Fuller went last year as a senior. -- STEVE LEE
ORLANDO -- You'll have to excuse Sickles coach Dan DeMoss if he seemed a little reluctant to leave the scorer's tent at Saturday's Class 4A, Region 2 meet.
He was just trying to make sure nothing got lost in the translation from the computer printout to the actual writing of team scores on a giant poster board.
"This is scary," he said. "I'm happy and excited at the same time.
"All the mixed emotions you can have, I have them."
You'll also have to excuse DeMoss for that one fist pump as he left the makeshift tent in the middle of Cypress Grove Park when it was clear his Gryphons had attained their goal by finishing tied for fifth and earning a trip to next week's state meet in Titusville.
"That was our goal for the season, and we made it by the skin of our teeth," DeMoss said.
Sickles was led by Dan Doromal, the highest local finisher, in fourth place and Adam Sisler in sixth.
Bloomingdale, led by Travis Morris' ninth-place finish and Brandon Coughlin in 11th, took second to earn a trip to state.
The Bulls finished 46 points behind Winter Park, which had individual champ Mike Swope, who broke the course record for the second consecutive week with a 3-mile time of 14 minutes, 43 seconds.
"We were hoping for second, but we wanted to push to try and catch Winter Park," Coughlin said. "But they're unbelievable."
Sarasota Riverview's Carling Cookerly avenged last year's regional loss to Littleton by winning in 18:46, but Winter Park won 83-84 over the Rams.- MIKE READLING