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County rivals could give Lecanto a race this year // BOYS

Pressure? What pressure?

Lecanto boys cross country coach Tim Byrne just reloads, and the Panthers return to state.

This season shouldn't be much different. While Lecanto doesn't have the depth the 1994 state champions had, it has plenty of potential. Byrne's youngest team since his first season in 1991 could develop into one of his finest.

"We have kids that are very talented but inexperienced," said Byrne. "If I can convince them they can do it, we'll be good."

Citrus coach Bruce Nelson also is trying to do some convincing. He tells his runners if they can break 17:30 and run together, they can close the gap between them and the Panthers for county superiority. A return trip to state isn't out of the question either.

And at Crystal River, Dan Epstein is convinced his team can improve. After all, everyone is back from a team that made it all the way to regionals last year.

Can the Pirates take another step? And will Citrus and Lecanto be there to join them if they do? Let's look:

Lecanto

Travis Tatman picked up where he left off last year at last weekend's Red Mule 5K in Brooksville, coming in first among high school competitors. Teammate Charlie Lee was behind him.

It may stay that way all season. Both are two of the county's finest runners, and Byrne expects them to run 1-2. Maybe.

"They should be, but we've got some other kids pushing them already," said Byrne.

Those other kids are just that _ sophomores. Wayne Johnson, J.L. Edge and Phil Demongone have the talent to give Lecanto another deep team if they continue to advance as they have.

Lecanto also is bolstered by junior Ricky Orta and senior Chris Spinosa. Other than Tatman and Lee, Byrne isn't sure how the rest will shake down.

"I'm looking for an individual leader, someone to take over and compete for the No. 1 spot," he said. "Most important, I'm looking for someone in my four to seven runners that is able to compete with the second and third man."

The Class 4A preseason coaches state poll has Lecanto ranked No. 4, right where it finished at state. The good news for the Panthers is that at the Red Mule 5K, they outran the No. 3 team, Central, and No. 5 Hernando.

Citrus

Last year, he was just a Shott in the dark. This season, he'll be expected to lead the Hurricanes to the light.

Sophomore Owen Shott already has shown flashes of running brilliance. Last year, he posted some of the best times ever for a freshman at Citrus. His goal was to break 17:00 _ laughable now that he already has logged a 16:13 at last weekend's Red Mule 5K.

"He's run a 16:11, and he's getting better all the time," said Nelson. "He's up there among the big boys. He's 45 seconds faster than anyone else on the team. He's way out there."

The big concern for Nelson will be developing a group to make Shott's high finishes pay off. If the pack develops into a force that can place a runner in the top 10 and a few more in the top 15, Citrus could repeat last season's trip to state, where it finished 13th.

Captains Joe Dorn and Matt Nelson, who was second in the district and regional meets last year, should pace the group. Dorn ran a career-best at the Red Mule (17:30), as did Andre Feldt, who has recovered from injuries that forced him to miss state.

Sophomore Joe Grimaudo "showed us an awful lot" at the Red Mule, said Nelson, and junior Zac McGowan also was impressive. Both ran personal bests.

"We're trying to get our first seven runners under 17:30," said Nelson. "If we get our times down, we don't need to worry. Everything else will fall into place."

Crystal River

Everyone is back for the Pirates, which should mean improvement, according to Epstein.

"I feel we are going to be a lot stronger than we were last year," he said. "A lot of our guys have matured, and we didn't lose anyone."

Brian Buzby, a senior, and sophomore Brad Millett will compete for the No. 1 position on the team. Buzby is coming off a solid season, and Millett took 45 seconds off his best time this year at a time trial a week ago. His best time last year was 16:35; at the Red Mule run he finished in 17:35.

"I expect those two guys to battle for No. 1 and 2 all year," said Epstein.

The coach also is hoping for big things from Greg Brown, who did surprisingly well at last week's time trails. Along with Travis Bruns and Eddie Trygar, they could help fortify the Pirate pack.

Ricky Bemis and Kyle Snapp also could finish in the top five for the Pirates. In fact, it is that No. 5 position that could determine the fate of the Pirates.

"If we can get that fifth runner to move up, they can have their best season here," Epstein said.

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