Injured star hurdler Char Foster is gone, but Ridgewood coach Sue Vien isn't about to let her take the Rams' state championship hopes with her.
Vien points out, quite correctly, that the Rams have competed all season without Foster and dominated every meet. She proudly boasts of having the district's best distance runner (Lizzy Leigh), best shot-putter and triple- and long-jumper (Fannie Holmes), best hurdlers (Lynn Martin and Kendra Dearsman), and best pole vaulter (Katie Halkitis). Ridgewood also could sweep all three relays.
"This team is wonderful," Vien said. "I feel good. At this point in time, they've come this far and it's their turn to shine. We're going to win."
Win at districts, sure. Win at regionals, maybe. Win at state? That is the burning question.
"It is a big loss for a team but we're concentrating on what we have," said Leigh, who has not lost to a district runner in the 1,600 and 3,200 this season. "We have a good team without her (Foster) and we have been winning without her."
The Rams begin that quest for a first state championship today at the Class 5A, District 8 track meet at Land O'Lakes. They will win the team title, that is a given, but from here on out team titles matter little. Getting athletes advanced to regionals is all-important. The top four finishers in each event will compete at next week's regional meet in Sanford.
"We are pumped up about tomorrow," Leigh said. "We're just going to go out and try to win again and try to stay undefeated. We want to keep (the unbeaten streak) until regionals and see what we can do there."
The Rams were third at state last year, and will be bidding for a ninth district championship a week after winning their 10th SAC championship.
The lone concern for Vien is Holmes, the team's most versatile athlete. She was severely ill Wednesday morning and hasn't been in school this week. If not well enough to compete and at least place in the top four of her events, Holmes' loss could be more crippling than Foster's.
Vien will send out 35 athletes to compete today, and expects around 20 to advance. "I'm hoping for 22," she said.
Ridgewood boys coach Glenn Cable also is expecting to advance his fair share of athletes. They dominated the SAC meet last week and could take as many to the next level as the girls team. Robbie Klinger, Ben Cable, James Vitale, Dave Kennedy and Jeff Shuhert have been solid this season and should have no problem placing in the top four.
Both the boys and girls teams at Gulf, Land O'Lakes and River Ridge lack the depth to hang with the Rams, but will push a number of athletes on to the next level, including Bucs Nate Bisson, Nick Haynes, Misty Schroeder, Heather Pownall and Barbara Carr, and Royal Knights Ashlea Thomas, Frank Temple and Mike Woolfe.
The Gators were sixth at the SAC meet but will score points with Sammy Portalatin and Phil Nelsestuen.
CLASS 4A, DISTRICT 8: The 4A meet will be held at Central, and the Hernando boys and Central girls will be favored.
However, if sprinter John Capel is still hampered by a hamstring injury, the surprising Pasco boys team could make a challenge. Although they lack the field event performers the Leopards have, the Pirates have been a surprise at the Pasco County meet and the SAC meet, where they tied with River Ridge for second.
Sprinter Norman Graham and jumper Roosevelt Miller should advance in multiple events. Pasco girls expect Amber Stinyard to move on in sprints and Jessica Robinson in 330 hurdles.
But the girls team with the best chance to upend Central is Hudson. Crystal Videgar could score points in all five of her events, and the Cobras have good enough distance runners to offset the Bears' 1-2 punch of Brooke Bastien and Jenna Ianella.
Char Foster (left) might have assured a state title for the Rams, but they have remained unbeaten even without her. One of the reasons has been Lizzy Leigh (below), who has not lost to a district runner in the 1,600 and 3,200 this season. Ridgewood also has the district's best shot-putter and triple- and long-jumper (Fannie Holmes), best hurdlers (Lynn Martin and Kendra Dearsman), and best pole vaulter (Katie Halkitis), and could sweep all three relays. A district title is a given. The key is advancing a lot of girls to the regional.