On a mild Saturday morning, Wiregrass Ranch senior Nikita Shah was an Ivy League-bound model in fuel efficiency.
Tapping into her proverbial tank without emptying it, Shah essentially led wire to wire to claim her first individual region title at Saturday morning's Class 3A-2 meet in Lecanto. The Harvard-bound Bull's time (18:32.40) was exactly nine seconds faster than runner-up Taylor Tubbs of Sebring.
"She ran well," said Bulls coach Don Howard, whose short-handed squad won its third region title in four years.
"She was running out front by herself right from the very start. Before the half-mile she was already separated and just ran under control ... We'll put the hammer down next week (at the state meet) and see what she can do."
The top six teams and top 15 individuals all earned berths in next weekend's 3A championships at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee. The Bulls (71 points) and third-place Sickles (113) were the only area programs to earn team berths. In the boys race, Steinbrenner, Wiregrass Ranch, Sickles and Land O'Lakes finished second through fifth, respectively, to punch tickets to Tallahassee.
Running without standout freshman Madison Conway (bronchitis), the Bulls got a sixth-place effort from senior Berlin Waters and a 23rd-place finish from sophomore Addie Cornwell, whom Howard said "really was key to our success."
Mitchell's Claudia Cancello (fifth) and King freshman Sneha Sathish (13th) earned individual state berths.
On the boys side, Steinbrenner put three runners in the top nine to place second (55 points), but couldn't maintain the tight pack it used to win last week's District 8 title. Sarasota (41) captured the team title, with Wiregrass Ranch (113) third, Sickles (131) fourth and Land O'Lakes (146) fifth.
Senior Tyler Lima (16:11.65) finished fourth to pace the Warriors, finishing one spot behind Land O'Lakes junior Travis Nichols (16:09.32) and two behind Sickles senior Abdin Fator (16:00.85).
Class 2A-2: At Lake Nona, Nature Coast (third) and Gulf’s boys (fourth) moved on to state as teams. Gulf’s Nick Buliga (sixth, 17:25.10) was the highest local finisher followed by Nature Coast’s Kevin Ciccone (seventh, 17:26.40). Ridgewood’s John Eckles (eighth, 17:27.70) also moved on as an individual.
For the girls, Nature Coast won the team title — paced by Alexa Lacy’s fifth-place finish (20:45.70) — while Gulf was fourth. The Bucs’ Kari Grippo was the individual runnerup, running 20:16.50 behind champion Adair Lyden (19:30.50) of the host school.