Runner of the Year: Kari Grippo, Sr., Gulf
Why we picked her: Even before she was the North Suncoast’s top state placer at the Class 2A meet, Grippo boasted some of the most impressive individual victories the area has seen in some time. Among her 17 career wins were district and region titles this year. The district title was her third in a row, but the region crown really gave her confidence. She had finished second as a sophomore and junior before breaking through in her final attempt.
Biggest accomplishment: Grippo, plagued by leg injuries for almost two years, kept pushing and never let the obstacles derail her from getting back to elite form. Grippo returned almost back to where she was pre-injuries, attaining a season-high mark (18:34.36) while placing fifth at state.
Future plans: Grippo has all but committed to Saint Leo University. She and Lions coach Melissa Mangen are just dealing with the logistics of scholarships, among other things. The Buccaneer is excited to join a roster that already includes former Wiregrass Ranch runner Berlin Waters.
Did you know? The Gator Invitational at Crews Lake Park was the best indication of what Grippo was like pre-injury. She won the race as a sophomore in a career-best of 18:09. The time was impressive enough without learning that Belleview’s Anne-Marie Blaney, who finished sixth in Class 3A that season, finished 19 seconds behind her that day.
Amber Philpott, So., Springstead: In almost any other season, Philpott’s dominance would earn her Runner of the Year honors. With district and region titles in her first attempts, the Eagle vaulted herself into the school’s best-ever individual finish at state (ninth 3A, 18:49.1).
Emily Kerns, Jr., Mitchell: Overshadowed during her freshman and sophomore seasons by former teammates Elaina and Claudia Cancello, Kerns stepped out of the shadows to win two races, including the SAC title. She placed second at districts before qualifying for the 3A state meet (41st, 19:42.48).
Elise Cedre, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: A first-teamer for the second straight season, Cedre stepped into a leadership role for the Bulls. She was 48th in Class 4A (19:54.74), four spots better than her 2012 finish.
Alyssa DeLigio, Sr., Nature Coast: The top finisher at state on a Sharks team that did major damage with its depth, DeLigio shined 43rd in Class 2A (20:30.01). Just two weeks before, she was the runnerup to Grippo at districts.
Alexa Lacy, So., Nature Coast: With DeLigio and Crystal Burchhardt set to graduate, Lacy will be expected to step up. She showed signs of that this season, finishing 68th in Class 2A (21:02.40). Her personal-best 20:46 in the Hernando-Citrus Classic was good for fourth place.
Eliza Gazda, Sr., Gulf
Crystal Burchhardt, Sr., Nature Coast
Jordan Spicer, Sr., Mitchell
Amber Maxwell, So., Wesley Chapel
Leah Thompson, So., Mitchell
Anclote: Perla Saucedo, Daena Young, Andrea Ferguson, Gabrielle Miller, Natalie Gonzalez, Ashley Scaperotti, Elliana Blow; Gulf: Katie Buckman, Abigail Raymond, Jaylin Banks, Martha Hernandez, Aubrey Crespo; Hernando: Ashley Morris, Land O’Lakes: Isabella Brown, Noemi Anaya, Lauren Hale; Mitchell: Jessie Boykin, Katelynn Emminger, Melinda Macklem, Olivia Batshon; Nature Coast: Mary Thomson, Kaylee Arvay, Summer March, Brianna Horn; River Ridge: Montana Gottman; Springstead: Tiana Newton; Wesley Chapel: Alyssa Turner, Elizabeth Salazar; Wiregrass Ranch: Madison Conway, Kerry Reilly
Coach of the year
Eric Milholland, Nature Coast. In only his second season in charge of the boys and girls programs, Milholland led the girls to a 14th-place finish in Class 2A. Milholland’s ability to train for depth is what advanced Nature Coast so far.
Co-Runners of the Year
Travis Nichols, Sr., Land O’Lakes
Tyler Stahl, Sr., Land O’Lakes
Why we picked them: Nichols and Stahl pushed each other all season, and the competition led to numerous race wins and awards. Nichols, last year’s Tampa Bay Times’ North Suncoast Runner of the Year, bettered his career personal best when he crossed the finish in 15:38.62 on the way to his second district title in three years. Stahl was runnerup to Nichols at districts and regions, but bested his fellow senior in the 3A state meet with an eighth-place overall finish (15:34.95).
Biggest accomplishments: While Nichols had won a district title as a sophomore, his consistency as a senior showed when he captured his first region crown and the first for the Gators since Matt Schwartz won in 2009. Stahl, meanwhile, set a mark of his own while achieving the first top-10 placing at state since Felix Soto took eighth in 2008. The duo combined to catapult the Gators to their best-ever state finish (sixth).
Future plans: Both are being pursued by the University of North Florida, among other programs, and have serious intentions of running at the collegiate level next year.
Did you know? Nichols fractured his foot during his junior track season, and although it has limited his mileage training between races, he still won his second straight SAC title. While Nichols did win regionals, he and Stahl finished with nearly identical times (16:05) with the champ crossing the line only two-tenths of a second ahead. Coach Kris Keppel considers Nichols and Stahl among the best he has ever trained, a group that includes Soto, Steven Bell and Lee Stephens.
Jake Poore, Sr., Land O’Lakes: Only with the Gators could Poore be overshadowed. The senior had the third-best finish of any North Suncoast runner in Tallahassee, finishing 18th in 15:59.02, also the third-best time on his own team.
James Harkless, Sr., Nature Coast: As a junior, Harkless was disappointed with his performance at state (71st). In his final prep campaign, he looked to be on a mission, culminating with his personal-best time (16:34.55) on the biggest stage of them all, placing 21st in Class 2A.
James Raymond, So., Gulf: Raymond stepped to the forefront in his second prep season, winning his first race at the West Pasco Invitational over some of the area’s best runners. He continued to be strong through the state meet, where he finished 51st in Class 2A (17:01.38).
Wesley Best, Jr., Gulf: Like his teammate Raymond, Best broke out in 2013. While the duo was solid throughout the year, helping the Bucs to a third straight district title, Best notched a personal-best time (17:13.02) while finishing 69th at state.
Steven Barnabei, Sr., Land O’Lakes: Barnabei has arguably overcome more than any other runner on the North Suncoast. Coming back from surgery to remove a brain tumor one year ago, the senior ran a personal-best 16:45 at McKethan Lake for districts before finishing 90th overall in Class 3A (17:21.26).
Donald Swartz, Fr., Land O’Lakes
Austin Mulyck, So., Nature Coast
Austin Dotson, So., Land O’Lakes
Trevor Nichols, Sr., Land O’Lakes
Robert Jessup, Jr., Gulf
Anclote: Ruben Ramirez, Stefanos Katsiopis; Central: Austin Gray; Fivay: Kenny Walker; Gulf: Sebastian Gazda, Orlando Bravo, Victor Lopez, Domenic Crisafulli; Hernando: Charles Steinkamp; Mitchell: Koehler Machlus, Troy Shea; Nature Coast: Nicholas Conway, Jacob Rockwell, Colton Lancsarics, Matthew Aubertin; Pasco: Kevin Hernandez, Matthew Page; Springstead: James Amodie; Sunlake: Stephen Brown; Wesley Chapel: Jordan Bourque; Wiregrass Ranch: Keval Patel, Andy Hippely, Christian Suriel
Coach of the year
Kris Keppel, Land O’Lakes. Keppel led the Gators to the best overall season in program history, inspiring his runners with his own courage as he underwent treatment for pancreatic cancer. In his 17th season with the program, six of his runners finished in the top 100 at state — including three (Stahl, Nichols and Poore) in the top 20 — as the Gators placed sixth as a team.