For University of South Florida senior Aimee Lund, Saturday's Metro Conference cross-country championship in New Orleans is a chance to run down her demons.
Last year at this meet, she was determined to win and stubbornly chased Louisville's Michelle Borgert for much of the race. Lund eventually wilted and finished sixth.
"It's a really big deal for me," said the former Gulf High star. "I really want to win it. I'm feeling stronger than I've ever felt before."
Freshman Gina Bawden, formerly a star runner from Hernando High, also is expected to contribute to the Bulls' effort.
As important as the race is to Lund personally, it could be a crossroads for a young program on the rise. The women's team has won three meets to earn its first national ranking; it's now No.
A conference title, which would be the program's third in eight seasons of existence and first since Lund was a freshman, also could enhance the team's chances in the NCAA regional meet Nov.
12 in Greenville, S.C.. The top two finishers there are assured a spot in the NCAA championships. USF never has fared better than ninth at the regional.
For the first time in years, coach Bob Braman's top runners are experienced (four seniors with Lund, Clare Tomkinson, Sarah Erickson and Keisha Wilson), healthy and fit. Two other talented freshman are Jessie Schra and Tami Heckman.
"I'm more excited for the team," Lund said. "The seniors have all had a great year. Clare's been great and Sarah and Keisha are having their best years. We're trying not to analyze it. We're just going with it."
Seven the hard way: The USF men's cross-country team, led by senior transfers Muchapiwa Mazano and Gray Mavhera and junior college transfer Robert Malseed, will look for its seventh conference title Saturday.
Mazano, from Zimbabwe, tied the course record of 14:39 in September's Red Mule Runners 5K at McKethan Lake Park.
Other Bulls runners are freshmen Scott Levell from Gaither High and Brian Good, and juniors Mike Anderson from Plant City High and Lennox Ellis. Star senior Jim Neumann still isn't healthy.
"It took us forever to take Western Kentucky's streak away," Braman said of the Hilltoppers' six consecutive Sun Belt Conference titles (1982-87). USF was second the final three years before it beat Western in 1988 to begin its own streak.
"It was like magic. We'd beat them during the season and they'd come into the conference meet with that swagger. We have that kind of feeling, that swagger, and we're going to protect it dearly."
PHCC volleyball: The Pasco-Hernando Community College Conquistadors (31-4) rolled past Manatee and South Florida Community College last week, dropping only one game and clinching the Suncoast Conference title.
PHCC also surpassed last year's win total in coach Carol Kidman's first year.
Hitter Gina McGee, who was the nation's leader in kill efficiency last week, improved that mark from .552 to .561 and will likely remain first. Debbie Snare was ranked second in hitting efficiency last week. Setter Ardell Diaz was sixth in assists.
Saint Leo soccer: The Monarchs captured second place in its Marriott Classic last weekend and set a couple of school records in the process. Sunday's 5-0 win over West Florida was the Monarchs' 11th this season, a new high for the soccer program, and also guaranteed a second straight winning season, another first. It also was coach Fran Reidy's 50th career win.
After losing 4-2 Saturday to Queens (N.C.) College in what Reidy said was "our worst game in terms of intensity," the Monarchs were spurred by three Sam Koleduk goals (including the 75th of his career) in Sunday's shutout win. Koleduk, Geoff Chisolm and Todd Debolt earned all-tournament honors.
Koleduk now has 14 goals, best in the Sunshine State Conference, and his 38 points ties him with North Florida's Chris Dunn for the SSC lead. Chisolm, who scored a goal Saturday, is fifth with 23 points.
The Monarchs have a big game with Lynn University, eighth-ranked in the NAIA, at home Friday at 3:30 p.m.
Saint Leo men's basketball: Coach Todd Smyly reported that all is well after the first official week of practice. The lone casualty has been former Miami Senior star Antonio Sanders, who was dismissed for disciplinary reasons and will transfer after the semester.
Smyly said he has been surprised by the play of Greg Calhoun, who injured his back last year after only seven games. "We really weren't expecting much from him," said Smyly.
_ Times correspondent John C. Cotey contributed to this report.