Zephyrhills boys cross-country coach John Stephenson isn't quite sure how formidable his Bulldogs are. But after winning their second meet of the season Saturday morning, Stephenson knows they're good.
"Maybe we should be state-ranked, maybe we shouldn't," Stephenson said. "I know we're running well enough to be considered."
Zephyrhills, led by runner-up Will Staples, won Saturday's 3-mile Bear Invitational at Central High with 43 points.
Preseason state-ranked Hernando, which has twice lost to Zephyrhills, was second with 68, followed by Orlando Edgewater (114), Pasco (140), River Ridge (148), Springstead (168), Citrus (184), Central (201), Crystal River (252) and Clermont (272) in the top-10 of a 16-team field.
Hernando's Jody Spangler was the individual winner in 16 minutes, 1 second.
Spangler led by 25 seconds at the 2-mile mark and continued to pull away from Staples, a freshman who went 16:34 after sprinting past Hernando's Eric Omdahl just shy of the finish.
Jimmy East of Zephyrhills was fourth in 16:47, followed by Ian Feldt of Citrus (16:47). Zephyrhills had three others in the top 15: Brad Burks (seventh, 16:56), Bill Poe (13th, 17:15) and Jeff Richards (15th, 17:16).
"Coming into the season we knew we'd have a strong team," said Stephenson, whose team has arguably emerged Pasco County's second-best behind defending Class 3A state-champion Ridgewood. "We just didn't know how strong. We felt this was the year we could compete with the Hernandos and the Gulfs, and we're running with those teams."
Zephyrhills also won the Daytona Beach-Seabreeze Invitational and was second to Ridgewood at the Gulf Invitational.
Spangler, meanwhile, knew no boy had ever broken the 18-minute barrier on Central's sandy, wooded course. "We'll change that," he said before the race.
Running on a course he thought was perhaps 30 seconds faster than it should have been, Spangler led from shortly after the start to the finish. "I usually don't go out that quick," he said, "but we did a lot of sprints this week."
In the preceding 2-mile girls race, coach Bob Goddard saw all those front-of-the-pack runners with Citrus jerseys coming out of the woods and onto the Central track and figured his Hurricanes were in pretty good shape.
That they were, blowing away the field for an easy 67-point victory. Goddard was mildly surprised, though hardly shocked.
"We had a hard week of practice," he said, "and I thought they'd be a little more tired than that."
Citrus, ranked No. 10 among statewide Class 3A teams by the Florida Athletic Coaches Association, finished with 39 points, followed by surprising River Ridge (106), Springstead (129), Hernando (131) and host Central (142).
South Sumter's Maja Zajvaldova cruised to victory in 12:29, followed by Lake Weir's Grace Daley (12:47). Citrus was led by third-place Christina Scharf (13:32) and fifth-place Shannon Weaver (13:58), with Springstead's Vera Blevens finishing in between them in 13:57.
Angela Woods of Zephyrhills was sixth (14:01), Pam Byrne of Land O'Lakes was seventh (14:05) and River Ridge's Nicole Mallo eighth (14:11).
Zajvaldova, a foreign-exchange student who is Czechoslovakia's junior-national 1500-meter champion, has won 6 of 7 high school races.
"I would like for somebody to push me for time," said Zajvaldova, who went unchallenged, "but at the same time I'm nervous when somebody's there."