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DADE CITY — Wiregrass Ranch’s Nikita Shah accomplished something at Saturday’s state cross country meet that no other runner had ever done for the Bulls. The junior stood atop the podium with a medal around her neck.
Shah was one of a few North Suncoast stars in the meet at Little Everglades Ranch. She came in fourth in the Class 3A girls race, crossing the finish in 17 minutes, 53.96 seconds. She was nudged out for third by less than two-tenths of a second by Chiles’ Carly Thomas.
“My mentality coming in was that I was going to have fun and I was going to work hard,” Shah said. “It makes me so happy to bring a medal back to my school because I know there will be girls next year that will be doing the exact same thing.”
Wiregrass Ranch finished seventh in the team standings with 232 points behind Shah and Elise Cedre and Berlin Waters, who finished 64th and 66th, respectively.
Gulf’s Kari Grippo did everything she could to follow up Shah’s performance, but hindered by a strained hamstring she suffered last weekend at regionals, the sophomore struggled to fend off stronger runners at the end of the race.
While she was among the leaders in the first 2 miles of the course, once the stretch run came, Grippo’s injury wouldn’t allow her to sprint as well as the other girls. Still, her time of 19:32 was good enough for seventh in the Class 2A race.
The Nature Coast boys were expected to perform well in their Class 2A race, but the Sharks lagged as individuals and it affected their overall score. While the fifth-place standing was the preseason goal, coming into the meet Nature Coast coach Eric Milholland knew third was possible.
Cody Van Natter, the team’s best runner all season, was the fourth-best finisher for the Sharks on Saturday (17:38) behind Kevin Ciccone (17:20), James Harkless (17:30) and Tyler Moore (17:32). The team accrued 197 points for fifth place behind champion Ransom Everglades. It was still the best finish in school history for the Sharks.
“I wanted someone in the pack to push the pace, but it just never happened,” Milholland said. “The good news is that most of these kids are coming back next season, so we have a lot to build on.”
The Wiregrass Ranch boys also performed well as a team in the Class 3A race. Paced by Ermias Bireda’s 15th-place finish, the Bulls came in sixth with 200 points. The junior edged Land O’Lakes sophomore Travis Nichols by only one second crossing the line.
Bireda only started a line of Bulls to cross early. The 3A boys might have been the most-talented classification in the state, and Wiregrass Ranch held its own with Samuel Hippely (16:22) in 26th, David Hill (16:26) in 31st, and Patrick Hill (16:59) in 77th.