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Preps are back to business of sports

It's run, run, run and drill, drill, drill in the heat as practices begin.

For the first few minutes of Lecanto's volleyball practice Monday afternoon, you might have thought it was track season based on the number of athletes running around the track.

Lecanto coach Karen Boisvert wanted to know right off the bat who had been working out this summer and who had been slacking off. So the Panthers _ 30 in all _ opened Monday's first practice by heading out to the track for a 1-mile run.

The rules were simple: Run a mile under 9 minutes and you'll be considered for varsity; over 9 minutes and your fate would be at Boisvert's discretion.

"They should run enough in the summer so we don't have to spend all our time during the first practices getting in shape," Boisvert said as she prepared to time the athletes. "We don't have much time. There are less than three weeks before the Classics (season opening tournament)."

Up the road at Citrus High, football practice was in full swing while the volleyball team ran drills in the gymnasium.

Head volleyball coach Pam Woznicki said the first day was dedicated to skill building for the 24 players who turned out for practice.

"We are just working on the traditional skills," Woznicki said.

Actually, she spent about the first 45 minutes of practice setting up new equipment. Citrus has a set of new portable standards (nets) that will allow for more participation during practice.

"Before, we had to have one team practice at one time and then the other team later," Woznicki said. "Now, the varsity and JV teams can practice together and that has some benefits. You can move kids around when you need to, the older setters can help the younger setters and things like that."

The 1999 fall sports season officially began Monday in Florida and teams at the three county high schools _ Lecanto, Citrus and Crystal River _ were back in full force. In Citrus County, fall sports mean football, volleyball, cross country and _ for the first time this year _ golf.

For the third consecutive year, the start of the school year coincided with the start of practices in Citrus County. That means both coaches and athletes are adjusting to school and playing sports again all at the same time.

For the Lecanto girls cross country team, the biggest battle was the weather. Although early morning rain kept the skies cloudy and the temperatures hovering near 80, the runners wouldn't describe the weather as "nice."

In fact, they called it just the opposite.

"It's so hot that when you stop running it feels like the sweat is enclosed around you because of the humidity," junior Kim Hite said.

"It's hot," senior Melissa Kenney echoed. "We don't normally run this time of day (afternoon); we run late in the evening, but since it's the first day we ran after school."

So how did the time change go over?

"We don't like it," Marissa Flanagan said. "It's so humid the sweat sticks to you."

As for the Lecanto boys cross country runners, they'll just have to get used to it. Following a year-long hiatus, Tim Byrne has taken over the team again, and one of his changes is to hold practice daily after school _ for both personal and practical reasons.

"I have two little babies that I need to get home and see," Byrne said. "But it's been done before. In 1992 we finished second (in the state meet) and in 1993 we finished third and we trained right after school. So I used that as my example to them that you can certainly do well training during the day. In 1996 and 1997, we trained in the evening, but we continued to be disappointed and we didn't do as well."

Byrne said he was looking for "high mileage" from his runners the first day, but also wanted to "make sure they don't die."

Lecanto girls cross country coach Dan Epstein planned to use Monday's first practice as both a physical workout and a chance to focus mentally on the upcoming season.

"It's survival of the fittest," Epstein said. "We don't have everybody here today because all of the paperwork hasn't been finalized. So we just want to get the logistics straight for the rest of the year and set some goals. We went to camp this year at Brevard (N.C.) College. We did some mountain and hill running and set some goals, so I think we'll be in good shape."