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Lecanto boys begin slow climb

A year from now sounds like an awfully long time to the Lecanto High boys tennis team, but head coach Bruce Payne says it's unfair to look for decided improvement from his players until then.

Payne, a private tennis instructor who took over the Panthers' program this season, has only one player who plays year-round tennis, and he is injured. What remains is a young, inexperienced squad that learns with every match.

"Some of these people have never played before," said Payne, whose team dropped to 1-2 with a loss Thursday to two-time Gulf Coast Conference champion Citrus. "You look out on the one hand and see that we have made some improvement, but you don't have to look too far back to see where we've come from.

"Maybe we'll be a little more competitive when we play Citrus in a couple of weeks at Lecanto, but you're not going to see a team like this win the big matches or districts.

"I don't know how much to expect this year. In the course of a year, maybe, we'll have some people that play tennis year-round. But a year to these guys is like 10 to everybody else. They think it's never going to get here."

The Hurricanes (2-0) clinched Thursday's best-of-seven match with victories in the first four singles positions. (Complete results were not available at press time.)

Citrus, which is 16-0 in the GCC over the last two seasons, 18-1 overall, represents the type of program the Panthers eventually hope to build _ one that perpetuates itself.

The Hurricanes lost their top two singles players from last year, but a pair of freshmen turned up to fill the void for coach Doug Dodd _ Ryan Slattery at No. 1 and Brad King at No. 3 _ while senior Christian Feldt moved up to the No. 2 spot.

"Doug had a couple of freshmen come out and they had a lot of good players to practice with and play with," Payne said. "We had a couple of guys that were at about the same level, but they didn't have those same experiences during practice because we don't have the big guns. Once you get a few good players and get experience and enthusiasm up, things will snowball your way."

What hopes Lecanto held for a seasoned player who could lead the rest of the young team were dashed when freshman Jimmy Bessoni injured an ankle in the Panthers' season opener. He is out indefinitely with a possible fracture.

Yet Dodd, whose team has been the one to beat in the county the past few years, sees improvement on the Lecanto side of the net from last year, even though most of the faces are different.

Panthers storming: The Lecanto High baseball team is off to a good start at 2-0. Playing in its own Panther Invitational last week, Lecanto topped Cedar Key 14-3 and Dunnellon 16-2 to claim the title.

The Panthers will play host to Dunnellon again today at 6 p.m. The Panthers' regular-season game against Crystal River was rained out Wednesday. A make-up date has not been set.

Tourney delay: The Citrus High baseball team opened play Thursday in the Tom Varn Invitational tournament at Hernando High in Brooksville. The four-team, double-elimination event was to begin Wednesday but games were postponed after heavy wind and rain left the field unplayable.

The Hurricanes met South Sumter in the first round, while Central and Hernando High tangled in the other game. Losers will play today at 4:30 p.m., winners at 7:30 p.m.

The tournament concludes Saturday, with the semifinals slated for 1 p.m. and the championship game at 4:30 p.m. An "if-game" would be played at 7:30 p.m.

Softball no-hitter: Crystal River's Mandy Diaz notched the first no-hitter of the season as the Pirates blanked Springstead 11-0 on Feb. 25. Diaz also went 2-for-2 at the plate.

The Pirates play at Citrus at 4:30 p.m. today in the first intracounty meeting of the season. The Hurricanes are 2-3 after opening the season with a pair of losses in the Diamond Classic at Land O'Lakes. Both of Citrus' victories have been by one-run margins, 4-3 over Land O'Lakes and 3-2 over Hudson.

Off and running: The Springstead Invitational today is the first big track meet of the season, featuring nine teams from throughout central Florida.

Lecanto is the only Citrus County team joining Springstead, Hernando, Central, River Ridge, Gulf, Hudson, Montverde-Academy and Gainesville Eastside. Competition starts at 4 p.m.