In his heart, Bruce Nelson is very pleased. In his rational mind, he's a bit torn.
After nearly an entire season of swapping wins and losses with the state's elite cross country teams, Nelson's Citrus boys team has finally emerged as the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A.
Three consecutive wins over formally top-ranked Lecanto and a couple other victories over top-three Hernando paved the road to No. 1 for Citrus.
"We were excited because all year we've just been working toward that goal, but we've had teams in front of us," said Matthew Nelson, one of the team's captains. "It's finally nice to be recognized."
But there's just one problem as far as Bruce Nelson is concerned. The season isn't over for another three weeks.
And that's when he really wants to be wearing the No. 1 banner.
"The ranking is nice because it means the other coaches recognize that we have the ability to run with the best in the state," Nelson said Tuesday morning. "So in that sense, I'm flattered by it. But I would much rather be sitting at No. 3, 4 or 5 and looking up at the top team. I'm much more comfortable in the underdog position than as the front-runner."
The Hurricanes took over the top position last Thursday, then lost to Lecanto and Hernando at last Saturday's Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meet in Brooksville. So there's little chance the top ranking will change their outlook.
"We're definitely not overconfident," Matthew Nelson said. "After getting beaten bad by Lecanto and Hernando, we realize that those are two real quality teams and we still have a lot of work to do if we're going to be No. 1 at the end of the year."
For top runner Cory Presnick, the ranking is a little unsettling.
"I would rather be No. 2 or 3 and sit back and keep getting better," Presnick said. "But it doesn't matter. It's not like the rankings really mean anything right now."
Whatever the rankings mean, coach Nelson said it may be a little misleading after last weekend.
"In terms of competition, we're No. 3 (after last week)," he said. "There are four or five teams that are every bit as good as us. It just depends on how prepared you are, who feels strong and who's ready to run that day. Obviously we were not prepared Saturday and we didn't want it enough."
Top ranking aside, Citrus must now get ready for this weekend's district competition at Lecanto. The Hurricanes have spent the past week in intensive sprint training designed to improve their times heading into the most crucial three weeks of the season.
"I told my boys that we need a decent race on Saturday to qualify for regionals, a good race at regionals to qualify at state, and one great effort at the state tournament," Bruce Nelson said. "The key word is peaking and we're trying to peak at state."
Ironically, the Hurricanes have decided not to put all their efforts into winning the district title Saturday. In past seasons, Nelson said they'd go all out in the district meet because making it to state competition was "iffy." This year, the strategy is different.
"In basketball, I would do everything in my power to peak so we could win a district title," said Nelson, who also is the girls basketball coach. "But this is different. All we want to do is run well enough to get to regionals. We've been marking Lecanto all year long; we know who we've got to beat to beat them and they know who they've got to beat to beat us."
It's funny how time changes things. Three or four weeks ago, the Hurricanes' biggest goal was to beat Lecanto. Now that they've accomplished that, the stakes have been raised.
"Beating Lecanto was the goal at the beginning of the season, but now we have bigger goals," Presnick said.