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Carrier and Lee: Their stories were the best

NICK CARRIER WINS SECOND STATE WRESTLING TITLE

1 There were a lot of things about Lecanto wrestler Nick Carrier's run to a second straight state title that were impressive: There was the 35-0 record; the relentless style; and the fact that Carrier, whose usual body weight hovers around 165 pounds and who has a fondness for Big Macs, managed to do all this at 145 pounds.

Maintaining his weight at 145 was tough enough when the current Columbia University freshman won his first state title as a junior. Yet the effort was even more relentless during his senior year. Carrier ate his rice cakes, ran countless miles, wore rubber suits, and basically starved himself during the weeks leading to state.

In the end, however, the payoff was well worth it.

Last March, Carrier stood on the tallest podium at the Class 4A state championships for the second straight year, his domination of the state's 145-pounders complete.

What made him so special? Why will he go down as one of the best wrestlers ever to come from Citrus County? Why was Columbia so interested?

"Nick is just interested in going out and performing the best that he can," Lecanto coach Cory Collins said after Carrier pinned Ross Auerbach of Fort Lauderdale University in 3:47 in the state final. "He wanted to win this very badly. He could have rested on his laurels and reputation, but he went out and worked twice as hard to keep it going."

The 1998 Times North Suncoast Co-Wrestler of the Year didn't rely on physical strength _ though in many matches he could have. His strength was his relentless style and the precision of his moves. He never quit. He always searched for the next move _ usually before his opponent could counter the previous one.

"Nick has always been a big-match wrestler," Collins said. "The tougher the opponent, the tougher Nick gets."

CHARLIE LEE WINS 1,600- AND 3,200-METER STATE TITLES

1 For Lecanto's Charlie Lee, who had always seemed to come up short in meaningful events, it was the ultimate vindication.

After an admittedly disappointing cross country season in which he finished 12th at the Class 4A state championships after being picked as one of the favorites, Lee wasn't sure he wanted to continue running. He was tired and a bit fed up with the disappointments.

But Lee found the will. Boy did he find it.

Lee entered the 1998 track season fresher and faster, more determined than ever to right the wrongs of the past. He was undefeated in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter events during the regular season, then matched the effort at the Class 4A state championships. His outstanding effort _ including personal-best times of 9:31 in the 3,200 and 4:20.71 in the 1,600 _ earned Lee the Times All-North Suncoast Boys Track Athlete of the Year award for 1998.

"I have this little philosophy in life _ live for the moment _ but I never really did it before," Lee said last spring after receiving the track award. "I would talk it, but I didn't live it. And this year, I really did. I was only concerned with what I was doing right then, right there."

The turning point, Lee believed, came at the Florida Relays at the University of Florida, where he currently runs cross country and track. Lee was hoping to finish in the top four in the event, which invites top runners from all classifications, but ended up winning by 8 seconds.

"I was running a pretty good race and in the sixth lap they all started taking off on me and I was like, "Hey, here we go again, I'm going to lose. Great,' " Lee said. "And then suddenly I just decided I didn't want to lose that race. So I was even at the start of the last lap and I ended up winning by 8 seconds. That was the turning point, no doubt. I thought, if I can win the Florida Relays, what can't I win?"

CORY PRESNICK TAKES SECOND AT STATE CROSS COUNTRY

3 Citrus County has developed a reputation for producing some of the state's top distance runners. But this year's best was a little different than his predecessors.

Citrus' Cory Presnick isn't as devoted to the sport as some, but that doesn't mean he isn't as gifted. On the contrary, he may have as much pure talent as any who have come before him.

And, unlike most distance specialists, Presnick is a man of many sports with many likes and dislikes. He likes soccer. He likes baseball. And he likes basketball. He also likes running, and that's a good thing considering it may be his strongest sport.

"I played every sport," said Presnick, "but (in high school) I picked the ones I was best at, and I think I did a pretty good job."

Pretty good indeed. Presnick picked soccer, cross country and track, and has excelled in each. Yet there is one _ cross country _ where he excelled beyond expectations. Presnick spent the summer preparing for his other favorite sport _ soccer _ but that didn't seem to impede his progress in cross country.

In November, he finished second at the Class 4A state championships, topping all local runners and all juniors in the field. That performance vaulted him almost immediately to the position of favorite for next season and helped him earn the Times All-North Suncoast Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year award for 1998.

"I kidded him before the state meet _ I told him to make sure he was No. 2," Citrus coach Bruce Nelson said, conceding the first spot to the defending champion, Edward Acosta, who ended up winning by 19 seconds. "In the meet program they run the winners and runners-up all the way back to the beginning. I told him he could get his name in the program for his grandkids to see 40 years from now, and he did."

Presnick's goal for the season was to improve his finish at the state meet. Next year he would like to go beyond that.

"This year I've taken another step," he said. "Next year my goal is to get recognized nationally. I didn't do much running last summer _ my dad had to force me out there. I'll probably train a little bit harder this year and see what happens."

CITRUS SOFTBALL TEAM EARNS SECOND TRIP TO FINAL FOUR

4 There was a time during the 1998 season when the mystique of the Citrus softball team seemed lost; when the thought of the Hurricanes returning to the final four for a second straight year seemed remote at best.

Gone was the seemingly impenetrable defense, the stifling pitching, and the hitting prowess that guided Citrus to the Class 5A runner-up spot in 1997. It was the district semifinals, and the vaunted Hurricanes were down 5-0 in the fourth inning to Dunnellon, a team that had presented few problems in the past.

However, it didn't take long for the magic to return. Laura Helt stepped to the plate with two on in the bottom of the inning, and with one swing, put the Hurricanes back on solid footing with a towering, three-run homer. Citrus scored the next three runs en route to a 6-5 win and the magic was back.

Or was it?

Unlike the previous year, almost every post-season game was a struggle for the Hurricanes during 1998. Against Lecanto in the district final, Citrus scratched out a run on a single from Gina Reynolds, then held on behind Reynolds' equally clutch performance on the mound (five hits, no runs, five strikeouts) for a 1-0 win.

Then, after pasting Hudson 6-0 in the region quarterfinals, the Hurricanes received their two biggest tests of the season. Trailing by four runs to Gainesville Eastside after surrendering seven in the top of the seventh inning on five defensive errors, Citrus rallied for five runs to shock the Rams 12-11. Brandi Farmer's two-out double tied the game and Colleen Leddy provided the game winning hit with a single up the middle.

But it was not over yet. Citrus held a 3-1 lead over Jacksonville Lee in the regional final, but let it slip away as both teams entered extra innings tied at 3-3. Citrus survived a scare in the top of the ninth inning, then left it up to Leddy to provide the heroics again, which she did with a sharply hit ball that was misplayed, allowing Kari Wilson to score from third for a 4-3 win.

It would all come crashing down a week later when Citrus lost 7-1 to the eventual state champion, Lake Region, in the Class 4A state semifinals.

CRYSTAL RIVER ADVANCES TO SECOND ROUND OF FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS5 For the last three years they have been a fixture in the Class 4A playoffs and in the state football poll. They have lost only five times in three years, won three straight district titles, and have had a 1,000-yard rusher every one of those years _ including two 1,000-yard rushers the past two years.

Yes, the Crystal River football team is the closest thing to a dynasty one will find on the North Suncoast. This year was not its best performance, but it was close. Very close.

Crystal River advanced to the second round of the playoffs for only the second time in school history, but lost to a talented Gainesville Eastside team 20-7. Still, it was a memorable year that included many impressive individual performances and some impressive wins.

Topping the list of individuals was Leroy Hill, who rushed for 1,727 yards on 207 carries for his third straight 1,500-plus season. Hill captured the Times All-North Suncoast Player of the Year honor and was named first team on the Times All-Suncoast squad, which encompasses Citrus, Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

However, it would be hard to separate the performance of Hill from backfield mate and fellow first-teamer Ricky Posselt, whose 1,175 yards rushing and devastating blocking and defense helped him earn the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference and Florida Athletic Coaches Association District 8 Player of the Year awards. And there were others, like first-teamers James Wilson and Justin Wentworth, and tight end/quarterback/middle linebacker Shane Fitzpatrick.

All are part of a senior class the might be the best in Crystal River history and may be the best in Citrus County history.

The Pirates rolled through their first five opponents with ease before sustaining their first regular-season loss in 16 tries in a heartbreaker to South Sumter. However, the Pirates rebounded the next week with a 33-0 win over a ranked Central team, then rolled over Dunnellon, Hernando and Lecanto to complete a 9-1 regular season. Crystal River topped Central 27-9 in the first round of the playoffs before ending its season against Eastside.

HONORABLE MENTION

STORIES OF YEAR

+ Lecanto's Brad Millett wins the 4A, North II Region cross country championship.

+ The Inverness Senior League Softball All-Stars advance to their third straight state championship tournament.

+ The Lecanto boys basketball team advances to the regional semifinals.

+ The Crystal River girls basketball team advances to the regional semifinals.

+ Crystal River weightlifter Ricky Posselt takes third at the state championships.

+ Lecanto's tennis doubles team of Maggie Lamporelli and Kate Jendro wins the district title.

+ Lecanto's No. 1 singles player, Tony Hamon, wins the district title.

+ The Citrus baseball team wins the Class 4A, District 7 championship.

+ The Crystal River boys soccer team wins the 4A-7 championship.

+ Citrus' girls soccer team wins the 4A-7 title.

+ Al Maughan wins a world arm-wrestling championship in the 220-pound class.

+ Crystal River golfer Rebecca Twiner wins the 4A-6 championship.

+ The Citrus boys golf team wins the 4A-6 championship.

+ The Crystal River boys swim team wins its third straight district title.

Text by Times staff writer Carey Freeman

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