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Leto begins defense of state title in district meet

As the Oakland Athletics showed, repeating past glory is a more complicated than merely showing up and having superior talent. Leto High boys cross country coach Bob Ennis is aware of that as his team approaches the post-season. The Falcons are the two-time defending Class 4A state champions and are currently ranked second in the state behind Lake Worth-John I. Leonard.

But to get a shot at defending that title, they must first get past the District 4 meet Saturday morning at 9:30 at Polk Community College in Winter Haven.

"The only race that's important to us ever is this race," Ennis said. "The meets in the past don't mean a thing. The only race we have is this week. We wouldn't have the streak that we have if we didn't approach it in that manner _ one at a time."

Leto is heavily favored to win the meet, but the boys from Gaither, Bloomingdale and Winter Haven should follow close behind. Fourteen teams are entered, all with the same goal _ advancing to the Region II meet Nov. 10.

The top six teams and top five individual runners not on those teams will advance to the regional meet.

The fight for individual honors may well mirror the competition that has been going on all year in the bay area, as 11 of the 14 teams in the meet are from Hillsborough County.

Mike Anderson of Plant City is a slight favorite in the 3-mile boys race. He has finished first or second in every meet this year, and he's gotten stronger as the season has progressed.

Leto's Chuck Gale, Armwood's Daryl Allen, Bloomingdale's Adam Young and Gaither's Mark Smith and Kyle Hoge have been jockeying all season to be Anderson's main challenger. Jimmy Sellers of Leto, who has improved rapidly this season, could crack the top five.

In the girls 2-mile meet, which starts at 9 a.m., Leto is a slight favorite, but East Bay will be close and Brandon could make things interesting.

East Bay features Finnish import Viivi Tiainen, whose season-best time of 11:29 makes her the solid favorite. Meanwhile, Brandon's Jenny Dowd is peaking at the right time following her West Conference, American Division win.

Sophomore Kelly Fuller of Plant City, who has been a solid top-three finisher all season, and Shar Crader of Chamberlain, will also push the front-runners.

East Bay coach Jack Rice said that the key to catching Leto is matching the Falcons' depth. Leto's Lisa Karr, Melissa Thomas and Susan Furst have been challenging for the team's No. 1 spot all year.

"The most important thing to us is to get our (Nos.) 2 and 3 runners into the 12s," Rice said, referring to Jenny Smith and Anita Schwartz, who have run in the low 13-minute range all season. "If we can do that, I think we may have a realistic chance."

Class 3A, District 5

Also on Saturday, the Class 3A, District 5 meet is at Lake Park, near Gaither High. Eighteen boys teams and 17 girls squads are entered, including Jesuit, Plant and Robinson, as well as teams from Hernando, Pasco and Pinellas counties.

Springstead, which finished second behind Leto at the Jim Thurston invitational in Clearwater this season, ranks as a solid favorite in the boys race, which starts at 9:30 a.m. The Eagles are led by Eric Cummings and Willie Hill, who will be seeking to push St. Petersburg's Brian Herring for the individual title. Other contenders include Alex Martinez of Ridgewood and Mark Lenker of Jesuit.

"(Herring) is a very talented runner who has shown he can run on any surface," Jesuit coach David Parrish said.

As for his own team, which figures to battle with Ridgewood for second place, Parrish said, "We are as prepared as we can be. We've only run three meets, but that's because I believe you don't get better in meets, you get better by improving yourself in practice."

Plant, which is ranked fourth in the state, is the favorite for the girls title. The top five of Lori Beicher, Diane Chalk, Ellen Herbert, Jennifer Harkins and Beth Rooks give Plant good depth.

But those girls, along with the rest of the field, figure to be chasing Aimee Lund of Gulf, who has handed East Bay's Tiainen her only two losses of the season while recording times well under 12 minutes all year. Behind Lund, Gulf will likely challenge Ridgewood for second. The girls meet begins at 9 a.m. The top six 3A-5 teams (and top five individuals from outside those teams) will advance to the Region III meet at McKethan Park Nov. 10.

Meanwhile, Class 2A and 1A teams will start their post-season next week. Tampa Catholic and Academy of Holy Names will represent Tampa at the 2A-3 meet in Mulberry Nov. 10, while Berkeley Prep is host to the 1A-2 meet the same day.

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