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Runner of the year: Nikita Shah, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch
Why we picked her: Despite Mitchell’s Claudia Cancello outpacing her in the Class 3A state meet in Tallahassee for the first time all season, Shah was the dominant North Suncoast runner. Her 15th-place finish at state was not too shabby either, crossing in a time of 18:58.92. And for the first time in her outstanding career, she captured both district and region titles.
Biggest accomplishment: Shah ran a personal-best 17:48.50 to place second in the flrunners.com Invitational at Chain of Lakes Park in Titusville, beating her previous mark of 17:53, which she accomplished at the state meet in Dade City last season. No other current North Suncoast runner has broken 18 minutes, let alone on multiple occasions.
Future plans: Shah received interest from Florida, Florida State, Cornell and Columbia before she committed to run both track and cross country at Harvard next fall.
Did you know? The two-time North Suncoast runner of the year runs well on hills and rocky terrain, but she also dominates on the track. Shah placed third in the state in the 3,200 meters last spring, the third time in three years she placed in the top 10 of the event.
Claudia Cancello, Sr., Mitchell: Best finish at state of any runner in the area, finishing eighth in Class 3A (18:39.40).
Berlin Waters, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Was in the group just behind teammate Shah at state, placing 24th (19:21.71).
Elise Cedre, Jr., Wiregrass Ranch: Finished 52nd at state (20:00.37) and appears ready to take over as Bulls’ leader next season.
Madison Conway, Fr., Wiregrass Ranch: Made an immediate impact and gained valuable experience along the way; finished in 20:26.77 at state.
Kari Grippo, Jr., Gulf: Struggled with injuries much of the season, but toughed it out to cross 34th in the Class 2A state meet (20:08.12).
Addie Cornwell, So., Wiregrass Ranch
Chelsea Ginn-Davis, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch
Alexa Lacy, Fr., Nature Coast
Crystal Burchhardt, Jr., Nature Coast
Brielle Perlingieri, Sr., Nature Coast
Central: Jenna Barbee; Gulf: Eliza Gazda, Katie Buckman, Elaine Gavallas, Mia Savino, Abigail Raymond, Antoinette Martin; Hernando: Cindy Caceres; Land O’Lakes: Katie Monds; Mitchell: Emily Kerns, Elaina Cancello; Nature Coast: Mary Thomson, Summer March, Alyssa Deligio, Brianna Horn; Pasco: Victoria Baker; Ridgewood: Samantha Martinez; River Ridge: Helena Sims; Springstead: Tiana Newton; Sunlake: Nicole Castro; Wesley Chapel: Alyssa Turner, Elizabeth Salazar; Wiregrass Ranch: Emily Payne
Coach of the Year
Don Howard, Wiregrass Ranch: Under Howard, the Bulls have become perennial contenders in the postseason, cycling new runners in every season. Despite not having a runner place in the top 10 at state, Wiregrass improved from seventh to sixth in the team standings season and won its third region title in four years. The Bulls also continued their local dominance with a fifth consecutive Sunshine Athletic Conference crown. With an influx of underclassmen making waves, don’t expect things to slow down in 2013.
Runner of the year: Travis Nichols, Jr., Land O’Lakes
Why we picked him: In 2011, Nichols battled Wiregrass Ranch senior and eventual runner of the year Sam Hippely all season. This year, he vaulted to the dominant position in the area. He broke 16 minutes twice, saving his best for the big stages. He had a personal best of 15:48.00 at the Sunshine Athletic Conference Championships and a 15:57.04 at the Class 3A state meet. Last season, he ran his previous PR (15:58) while winning the district title.
Biggest accomplishment: After finishing second to Hippely as a sophomore, Nichols captured his first conference title when he and teammate Tyler Stahl dominated the SAC meet at Wesley Chapel in October. The victory set the momentum for his postseason run.
Future plans: Nichols will be back with the Gators next season with an eye on placing at state and leading the Gators team toward big goals. With intentions of running at the next level, he should garner attention from numerous college programs in the next year.
Did you know? The junior had one major hurdle in the early rounds of the postseason. He couldn’t get past Sarasota sophomore Zackery Summerall, who captured both the district and region titles over Nichols. At state, the Land O’Lakes anchor got a measure of revenge when he bested him by three seconds.
Tyler Stahl, Jr., Land O’Lakes: His 15:57.50 at the SAC championships garnered the runnerup spot, and his 16:02.23 at state was second among local runners.
Ermias Bireda, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Finished 30th (16:16.33) at state, best among Bulls competitors.
Spencer Guerette, Sr., Anclote: Had the best showing of any local runner at state, placing eighth in Class 2A (16:18.56).
Jake Poore, Jr., Land O’Lakes: Improved throughout the season, peaking at state to place 42nd (16:25.85).
Benjamin Hall, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch: Ran a PR of 16:38.84 to help push the Bulls to a top-10 team finish at state.
Nick Buliga, Sr., Gulf
Cody Van Natter, Sr., Nature Coast
Andy Hippely, So., Wiregrass Ranch
Kevin Ciccone, Sr., Nature Coast
Patrick Hill, Sr., Wiregrass Ranch
Fivay: Kenny Walker; Gulf: Wesley Best, James Raymond, Mike Keller, Amer Redd, Robby Jessup, Sebastain Gazda; Land O’Lakes: Dillon Oergel, Trevor Nichols, John Pace, Austin Dotson; Mitchell: Koehler Machlus, Troy Shea, Cory Hansen; Nature Coast: Stephen Murphy, James Harkless, Joseph Clark, Austin Mulyck, Carlton Blackburn; Pasco: Kevin Hernandez; Ridgewood: John Eckles; Springstead: Jesse Laurenti, Carl Zee, James Amodie; Sunlake: Steven Brown, Andrew Vasquez; Wiregrass Ranch: Thor Alastre, Eric Boudreaux, Christian Suriel
Coach of the year
Chris Loth, Wiregrass Ranch: While Land O’Lakes had the two most dominant runners in the area, Loth powered on with depth and ended up with a higher state placing (ninth) than the Gators (10th) in Class 3A because of an influx of youth and hard training. The Bulls will lose key seniors, but underclassmen like Hippely, Boudreaux, Suriel, Jarred Lanier and Keval Patel are anxious to take the reins and help the program maintain its dominance.