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Race is on to find where county teams will finish

Boys track teams in Citrus County are looking to go the distance this spring. At least that's where all three schools seem to have some of their best athletes.

The question is, will those distance runners be sufficiently augmented in other areas to make Citrus, Crystal River or Lecanto a serious contender for top honors in the new Class 3A, District 6.

Some answers may come into better focus this afternoon when the Hurricanes and Panthers gather at Citrus High along with Central and Hernando for a freshman/sophomore meet at 4 p.m. The Pirates don't begin their season until next Tuesday at Citrus.

Here's how the teams are shaping up:

Citrus Hurricanes

Coach: Tom Darby.

Top returnees: Jimmy White, Sr. (100, 220, 400-meter relay); John Autry, Sr. (100, 400-meter relay); Andrew Cook, Sr. (pole vault); Ian Feldt, Sr. (half-mile, mile); Travis Long, Jr. (mile, mile-relay, high jump); Kevin Balabas, Sr. (hurdles).

Outlook: Depth will not be as sticky a problem with the boys team as the girls, but coach Darby gave all of the boys planning to come out for track from basketball a week off before reporting.

There's a good crop of returnees, though it's impossible to accurately gauge the talent until everyone shows up.

"If we have any strength at all it's possibly in the sprints and field events," Darby said.

Crystal River Pirates

Coach: Norris Lightsey.

Top returnees: Glenn Sanders, Sr. (half-mile, 400 meter run, high jump); Travis Haley, Sr. (hurdles, triple jump).

Outlook: Two distance runners who showed promise late last season are back in senior John Smith and junior Shane Donahue. But coach Lightsey still was waiting last week to see if he might get some athletes who ran cross country in the fall out for track now that the basketball Pirates have ended their season.

"I can't say where our strength will be," Lightsey said. "Last year we were in a larger district with 14 teams but now it's a smaller district with five schools, so we'll need a more balanced team than in years past and balance is what we're searching for.

"South Sumter will have a lot of speed. Lecanto should dominate the distance races, and with that in mind they should be the one to beat for the district title along with Citrus, which is always tough."

Lecanto Panthers

Coach: Tim Byrne.

Top returnees: Steve Proulx, Sr. (shot put, discus); Adam Spate, So. (half-mile, mile); Keith Gordon, Jr. (mile, 2-mile); Sean McManus, So. (mile, two mile); Derek Ellis, Jr. (half-mile, mile).

Outlook: The Panthers return the core of the team that finished fourth in the district tournament last year, including distance runners Ellis and Gordon. Ellis won the mile in 4:33.65 and half-mile in 2:02.93 in the 2A-5 meet at Kissimmee last spring. Gordon was the only Panther to advance to the state meet in 1993.

"We have the potential to win our district," Byrne said. "If we have any weakness, it's in the high and triple jumps, but the smaller district we're in this year is a plus."

The Panthers opened the season by winning a four-team meet Feb. 19 at South Sumter High that included Central and Wildwood. Individual event winners were Jerry Eckleberger in the 110-meter high hurdles, Gordon in the mile run, Edward Munoz in the 400-meter run, Spate in the half mile, and McManus in the 2-mile run.