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Cross country district preview

Land O’Lakes senior Felix Soto, who placed first at Saturday’s SAC meet, is crucial to the Gators’ success.

LANCE ARAM ROTHSTEIN | Times

Land O’Lakes senior Felix Soto, who placed first at Saturday’s SAC meet, is crucial to the Gators’ success.

DADE CITY — The rivalry appeared to be conceived in early September. As the fall progressed, it developed shape, even a heartbeat. On Saturday morning, it was spawned.

History will indicate the Land O'Lakes-Wiregrass Ranch boys cross country rivalry formally entered the world at the Sunshine Athletic Conference meet at Withlacoochee River Park. With five runners in the top 23, the Gators — winners of four SAC crowns in a row — edged the Bulls. By one point.

But they're certain to see coach Chris Loth's team again. Of the Bulls' top seven runners Saturday, none were seniors.

"It was too close for comfort," Gators coach Kris Keppel said. "But I'd rather have a rivalry than not have a rivalry."

Wiregrass, a clear favorite at Thursday afternoon's Class 2A, District 3 meet in Brooksville, had shown signs of overtaking the Gators as early as Sept. 16, when it edged them by four points to win the seven-team Wiregrass Ranch Stampede on its home course. The Gators, however, were running at a predetermined pace that day.

Four days later, the teams finished tied for second at the Zak Lukas Invitational in Brooksville, with the Bulls clinching the tiebreaker based on a better finish by their No. 6 runner.

Saturday, they appeared poised to break the Gators' stranglehold on conference supremacy when three of their runners — Josh Reilly, Tyler Mattera and Logan Setzer — crossed the finish line in a virtual pack in 12th, 13th and 14th place, respectively.

Two other Bulls — sophomore Ryan Pulsifer (16:56) and classmate John Davis (17:17) — had finished fifth and 10th, respectively. But the 1-2 finish of Gators senior Felix Soto (16:08) and junior Matt Schwartz (16:45) was too much to overcome.

This year, anyway.

"They're still the class of the county," Loth said. "And until someone dethrones them they're still the team to beat."

4A, District 4

Where: Starkey Wilderness Park, New Port Richey

When: Saturday. Girls — 8 a.m.; Boys — 9 a.m.

Local teams involved: Mitchell

Others: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Countryside, Durant, East Bay, East Lake, Gaither, Largo, North Port, Palm Harbor U., Pinellas Park, Plant City, Riverview, Sarasota Riverview, St. Petersburg, Sarasota, Sickles

Boys favorite: Sickles. Defending champs led by 2007 individual winner Derek Wehunt.

Girls favorite: Sarasota Riverview. Defending champs had nice showing at Little Everglades pre-state meet.

2A, District 3

Where: McKethan Lake,

Brooksville

When: Thursday. Girls — 4:30 p.m.; Boys — 5 p.m.

Local teams involved: Hernando, Nature Coast, Pasco, Sunlake, Wiregrass Ranch, Zephyrhills

Others: Citrus, Crescent City, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Interlachen, Keystone Heights, Lecanto, Citra North Marion, Alachua Santa Fe, Villages, Ocala West Port, Williston

Boys favorite: Wiregrass Ranch. Bulls are young and loaded.

Girls favorite: Wiregrass Ranch. Like their boys team, Bulls are a fledgling dynasty.

3A, District 3

Where: McKethan Lake, Brooksville

When: Friday. Girls — 4 p.m.; Boys — 4:30 p.m.

Local teams involved: Central, Gulf, Hudson, Land O'Lakes, Ridgewood, River Ridge, Springstead, Wesley Chapel

Others: Belleview, Ocala Forest, Freedom, Lake Weir, Leesburg, Groveland South Lake, Ocala Vanguard, Wharton

Boys favorite: Land O'Lakes. Behind senior Felix Soto, Gators get past defending champ Wharton.

Girls favorite: Wharton. Defending champs won recent Hillsborough County Championship.

Cross country district preview 11/03/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 4, 2008 10:29pm]
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