Bob Goddard's strategy for Saturday's Class 4A, District 3 cross country meet is simple:
"We're going to throw everybody in that hasn't run," said Goddard, the Citrus girls coach.
Citrus, Lecanto, Crystal River, Dunnellon, Starke Bradford, Gainesville Eastside, Interlachen, Lake Weir, North Marion and Alachua Santa Fe will compete for the district title at Lecanto. The girls competition begins at 9 a.m., followed by the boys at 9:45.
Although there are no rankings for Class 4A girls, Lecanto and Eastside have been strong all season and are favored. Six of the 10 teams in the district will advance to regional competition Nov. 15.
"I don't think we should have a problem qualifying," Lecanto coach Dierdre Byrne said. "Right now, we're just fine-tuning. We're working on the mental, strength, where to push it, how to challenge and trying to run in a pack. But we don't have depth, which is the same as last year, so it's still going to be tough for us."
Lecanto will be led by top runner Stefanie McCullough, but Eastside will counter with Hilary White, a sophomore who had a breakthrough meet in early October at the Newberry Invitational, running 18 minutes, 34 seconds, and has been blazing ever since.
For the first time all season, Citrus will run its top seven girls. Along with the nucleus of Mary Bedford, Melissa Herndon and Martha and Elizabeth Cook, the Hurricanes return freshman Chivella Rogers, who has been out with a stress fracture, and Dani Stewart, who has been suffering from patella tendinitis. Kari Cassidy, a five-time track and cross country state competitor, also returns from a nearly season-long injury.
"Our strategy from here on out is to do the best we can," said Goddard, who believes the regional meet will be too close to call. "That's all they can control _ their effort and their intelligence while running."
The boys competition also is stiff, led by No. 1-ranked Citrus. For former No. 1 Lecanto, the road to a state title may be a little tougher than expected.
Although its strong corps of Charlie Lee, Wayne Johnson, Ricky Orta and Brad Millet will be present, the Panthers will be without freshman Shohn Joyner, who is out for disciplinary reasons.
"Everybody knows we lost one of our top five and that kind of hurts," Lecanto coach Tim Byrne said. "It hurts morale, but you have to hope the rest of the kids can step up if they have any more to step up and make up some distance there. Our only strategy is to run as hard as you can and see who can fall off first."