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Central girls favored to win title

They sputtered through the course last weekend and still walked away champions.

So when the Central girls participate in the Class 4A, District 6 cross country championship Saturday _ starting at 9 a.m. for the girls, 9:45 for the boys _ they will have yet another edge on the 12-team field: home-course advantage.

In no other sport does competing at home give such an edge as in cross country. Aside from practicing on the terrain nearly every day, the Bears have a course laden with dirt and sand. That's much different from other courses that are concrete or asphalt.

The Bears team is by far the best in the area and may be one of the best in the state. Last weekend, Central won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference championship, with all five scoring runners finishing in the top 11, although coach Lisa Bilodeau admitted her girls were running slower than usual.

"They ran just well enough to win," said Central boys coach Vic Cervizzi. "But a W is a W and they'll certainly be ready this week."

Leading the pack for the Bears should be Brooke Bastien, who won last week's conference meet by about 11 seconds.

The defending state-champion boys team has been competitive all year and, combined with the home-course advantage, should perform well. Both teams will be aided further as the regional meet next weekend also will be at Central. The top six teams will return for the regional along with the first 15 individual finishers.

However, the Bears will have to compete with county rival Hernando, which has all but owned the district and the conference.

"We know Hernando's out of our reach," Cervizzi said. "Right now we're just shooting for second place against Tampa Jesuit, no worse."

The Leopards' main competition in the conference has been Lecanto and Citrus, who join the Leopards as the cream of the state crop in Class 4A. But with neither of those teams to contend with in the district or region meets, Hernando is a strong favorite.

Casey Isaac is one of Hernando's top performers, finishing second to Lecanto's Charlie Lee in last week's conference meet by just 7 seconds.

But Hernando coach Ernie Chatman is not ready to dismiss a Jesuit team that split wins with Hernando in the two meets they competed in. In fact, he thinks some might be overstating Hernando's dominance.

"It's going to be a whole lot closer than what some might predict," Chatman said.