She wouldn't have made the difference between second place and first in Friday's Springstead Invitational, but Hernando High's Jerica Greene will definitely be missed this season on the track and field team.
Even on a team with a state-title hopeful in distance runner Gina Bawden, it's Greene's absence that has area coaches feeling for Hernando.
"It's a shame they lost her," Central coach Ricky Munford said. "It will be a big difference in the district. Without her, it's wide open."
Greene placed third in the long jump, sixth in the sprint hurdles and ran on Hernando's 400-meter relay at last year's state meet.
But having undergone reconstructive knee surgery during basketball season, the junior is out for this track season and, her coach said, possibly the rest of her high school career.
"Without Jerica it's kind of hard," Hernando coach Barbara Twichell said. "I really still look to win districts, but she normally scores at least 20 points every meet, plus she's a leader.
"The doctors told her her anterior cruciate ligament was completely torn. That's nasty surgery. She should be back for basketball next season, but by the time she's done with that she might not have anything left."
Without Greene, Hernando scored 57 points, well behind Springstead Invitational winner Gulf (114). Central was right behind in third with 55, a sign of hope for Munford, and Springstead was seventh in the seven-team meet with 15.
"Everybody's saying watch Hernando," Munford said, "but watch Central and Land O'Lakes, too. I think we can win the district if we go out and put everything together. I'm not bragging. I just know what I've got."
As the season gets under way, here's a look at what the county's girls teams have:
Munford likes the puzzle pieces at Central.
"It's going to all fit together," he said. "The thing I have to do is make sure it all comes together at the right time."
Sherry Blake, a regional qualifier last year, was a double winner in the 100 and 200 at the Springstead Invitational. She leads a sprinting corps that includes Lucinda Richardson and transfer Tenille Redman.
Hurdler Cathy McSweeney, a returning district champion and state meet qualifier, is strongest at 300 meters, which she won at the Springstead meet. She's joined by fellow state qualifier Danielle Assalti, a USA Track & Field age-group state champion at 400 meters. Freshman Kylee Kingery is learning from both hurdlers.
Redman, a former age-group national champion as a high jumper in Canada, competes with a contingent that includes triple/long jumper Teneka Drakes, high jumper Crystal Matusik, shot putter/discus thrower Debbie Mills, and freshman thrower Alissa Pennington.
Drakes also is a quarter-miler, as is Jennifer Garti. Tonya Donahue and Claudia Cappiello are the top half-milers. No. 1 cross-country runner Shannon Ackerman is a top distance competitor, joined by Kelly Hughes.
Bawden, a senior who has signed a running scholarship with the University of South Florida, is the Class 3A state cross-country champion. She's a favorite in the 2-mile this season, having placed fifth in the event last year and gone 11:29 to win the region meet.
"I hate to make predictions," Hernando distance coach Scott Borgeson said of the Springstead Invitational double winner, "but I definitely think she's a contender."
Bawden heads a distance/middle distance corps of sisters Cassie and Vanessa Nowicki, freshmen Erin Chatman and Melissa Hancock, and half-milers Stephanie Poe and Lee Bearden.
Quarter-milers Toni Elliott, Loretta Lambright and April Bedwell should make for a strong mile relay. Top field event competitors on a 42-member team include Springstead Invitational discus winner Karen Williams, high jumpers Aliza Loveday and Jill Carpenter, triple jumper Elliott, and shot putters Bridgett Walker and Jeanice Smith.
New Springstead coach Darlene Kufner has 25 girls, but more than half are freshmen.
"It's really a young group of kids, and I'm hoping a lot of them will stick with it," said Kufner, who takes over for new softball coach John Bifulco. "They need to find their events and get established."
Among the more established Eagles are discus thrower Erika Jasen, high jumper/sprint hurdler Shauna Hill, high jumper/distance runner Christina Coloura, long jumper Gina Costanza, half-miler Melanie Hill and 300 hurdler Christina Stanonis.