BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast has started taking the strides toward becoming one of the top programs in the area, and its domination Saturday of the boys race in the 35th annual Zak Lucas Invitational was evidence of that.
Led by winner Cody Van Natter, the Sharks placed five runners in the top six overall and seven in the top 11. Nature Coast was one spot away from a perfect score with Hernando's Parker Steinkamp, who finished fourth, as the only competitor to break-up the string.
"I knew we had a good shot at this one," Nature Coast coach Eric Milholland said. "So we worked hard this week, and there's no doubt our boys were running on tired legs. It was good to see them push themselves."
Van Natter crossed the line in 16 minutes, 56 seconds, and he was the only participant to finish in less than 17 minutes. Teammates Kevin Ciccone (17:06) and Tyler Moore (17:13) were not far behind. Although the times were slower than the usual winners of this race, Van Natter was happy with his performance.
"We had a real tough week of practice," he said. "We're pushing ourselves harder because we're trying to get ready for the end of the season. We have bigger goals."
Last season's champ, Pasco's Anthony Plourde, won in 16:24. Five runners in last year's race finished with better times on the McKethan Lake course than Van Natter this year, including Van Natter, who was fourth in 16:52.
While Nature Coast (17 points) easily outpaced runnerup Springstead (91) for the team trophy, the girls side was won by Crystal River (47). Wharton (67) came in second with Nature Coast (75) and Springstead (95) rounding out the top four.
Lecanto's Chloe Benoist (20:45), second in last season's race, won the title this year.
Springstead's Devon Rennie (21:09) came in second to Benoist, and teammate Ty'Rhonza Harris (21:32) joined her in the top 10 with a seventh-place finish.
"We've got a chance to be very good," Springstead coach Ron Myers said.