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LECANTO — It was an uphill battle for every one of the 232 competitors who ran in the Class 3A, Region 2 meet Saturday morning.
A few, however, rose to the occasion like none before on this course. Leading the way were Belleview’s Anne-Marie Blaney and Wiregrass Ranch’s Nikita Shah, who finished first and second, respectively. The pair not only set the pace but lapped the rest of the field by more than 1.30 minutes as they navigated the tough terrain with the only sub-18-minute times in the history of the course.
“This is by far the hardest course I’ve ever faced. To me this is the best race I’ve ever run,” said Shah (17:55.48), who finished three seconds behind Blaney. “Now I hope I can turn around and run my next best race ever next week at state.”
Wiregrass Ranch (104 points) also finished second as a team to St. Cloud (47 points). The other four teams advancing to state were East Ridge (168), King (180), Lake Region (193) and Winter Springs (196).
“I’m proud of the way our girls ran today. We came in seeded second and that’s what we finished,” Wiregrass girls coach Don Howard said. “I’m really excited about Nikita’s time. She ran a great race and this sets up nicely for her for next week.”
The Wiregrass Ranch boys put an exclamation mark on the day by winning in decisive fashion. In fact their 57 points was 34 better than Sarasota and Chamberlain, who tied for second.
“This is our third regional title in a row and by far our most rewarding,” Wiregrass coach Chris Loth said. “It feels great because the level of competition this year was exceptional. We really had to earn this one for sure. It’s especially satisfying after last week where, although we won, we really didn’t run our best. It’s all gravy from here on in. Next week we’re shooting for top-10 as a team.”
The tiebreaker for the runner-up trophy went to Sarasota, which won because its sixth-place runner, Ian Hull (38th overall), finished ahead of Chamberlain’s sixth runner Jacob Fuhr (66th). The other three teams to advance to state were Steinbrenner (103), St. Cloud (167) and Land O’Lakes (193).
Like their female counterparts, two runners stole the show for individual bragging rights as Celebration’s Quincy O’Connor (15:53.15) out-kicked Chamberlain’s Max del Monte (16:04.00) for the individual title.
“Max didn’t have quite enough in the end. We really expected that he would win the race,” Chamberlain coach Bill Strack said. “But I’m convinced that Max still has a really good chance of winning the race next week. He has a way of peaking really good at the big races and there’s none bigger than next week.”
There was a bit of controversy at the conclusion of the boys race when one of the top runners stumbled after crossing the finish. His fall inside the chute confused the finishing order. But after a long discussion, that ended well after all the teams had left, it was determined by Lecanto meet director Dan Epstein that Matt Henning from Harmony was seventh and Steinbrenner’s Tyler Bess-Lima finished eighth.
When it didn’t appear that the team scores were impacted, Chamberlain’s Strack left the meet satisfied.
“We finished tied for second and I’m happy with that. And we beat Steinbrenner which is always an added icing on the cake,” he said, laughing. “We have a friendly rivalry with them and it’s always good to one-up them when we can.”
Class 3A, Region 2
Team Results: St. Cloud 47, Wiregrass Ranch 104, East Ridge 168, King 180, Lake Region 193, Winter Springs 196, Sarasota 213, Steinbrenner 218, Mitchell 224, Belleview 233, Sickles 243, George Jenkins 253, East River 288, Sebring 298, Hillsborough 315
Top 15: Blaney, Bel 17:52.50; Shah, WR 17:55.48; Gonzalez, StC 19:26.63; Santander, StC 19:41.10; Dewitt, Sar 19:45.60; Hartman, Sic 19:50.52; Tubbs, Seb 19:50.90; Singer, WS 19:53.45; Green, ER 20:00.57; Solórzano, StC 20:05.70; Cancello, Mit 20:06; Lutton, Hil 20:06.79; Stadtlander, StC 20:07.97; Ginn-Davis, WR 20.11.55; Benoist, Lec 20:13.30.
Team results: Wiregrass Ranch 57, Sarasota 91, Chamberlain 91, Steinbrenner 103, St. Cloud 167, Land O’Lakes 193, Winter Springs 203, George Jenkins 213, Belleview 259, Sebring 271, Harmony 285, Sickles 289, Lake Gibson 303, Edgewater 338, King 410
Top 15: O’Connor, Cel 15:53.15; del Monte, Cha 16:04.00; Bernard, Sar 16:21.32; Hippely, WR 16:24.90; Bireda, WR 16:28.71; Perez, HC 16:36.69; Henning, Har 16:43.31; 8. Bess-Lima, Ste 16:44.90; Kirkman, Lak 16:45.76; Nichols, LOL 16:46.58; Russo, Cha 16:46.71; Montoya, Cha 16:46.84; Piatt, Sic 16:49.01; Hill, WR 16:49.77; Morgan, StC (16:50.05).