No disrespect to those fierce area high school football rivalries, but some of the toughest competition around here this fall may come in the sport of cross country.
When the Florida High School Activities Association revised its cross country districts for the upcoming season, the classifications were dropped from six to four and schools were reassigned to new classes and districts.
And from the looks of things, it doesn't get much tougher than what schools in Districts 3 and 4 of Class 2A will face _ especially the boys teams.
Of the top 10 teams in the 2A preseason poll, eight are members of either District 3 or 4. Those eight include Lecanto, Citrus, Hernando and Central. Nine of the top 14, including Dunnellon, also are in District 3 or 4.
"We've got good teams everywhere you look," Citrus boys coach Bruce Nelson said. "Eight of the top 10 are in the district and 12 are in our region. So we could be a top 10 team in the state and not get out of the district. It just seems that the real good cross country teams are all in 2A."
Both Lecanto and Citrus have been state powerhouses for years and each advanced to state competition last season. But area coaches concede this year's competition may be the toughest ever.
"I think it is as far as the district and region because all the teams ranked in the top 10, for the most part, fall in our district or region," Lecanto coach Tim Byrne said. "I think it makes it more fun But I don't know what to expect."
In the girls competition, seven of the top 14 teams are in District 3 or 4.
"It's just tough, there's no other way to put it," Citrus girls coach Bob Goddard said. "Cocoa Beach came out of nowhere last year, I wasn't expecting them, and Hudson went to state last year and now they are in our district. Eight girls teams went last year, but only six will go now. And it's much tougher."
After finishing second in the state cross country competition last season and second in the 3,200 at the state track and field meet, Citrus' Cory Presnick is ranked the top Class 2A runner in the state in the preseason poll.
"He should be," Nelson said. "He finished second in the 2-mile and the cross country meet to Edward Acosta (Miami Belen) and Acosta is gone (graduated). There is a lot of good competition out there, but nobody has shown they are better yet."
Presnick, a senior, said the rankings are nice, but nothing to lose your head over.
"It's a kind of motivation to know you have something to work for and that you're not doing it for nothing," Presnick said.
When asked how much stock he puts in preseason rankings, Lecanto's Byrne didn't need to take time to think about his response.
"None," he said quickly. "It's neat to enjoy and see what happens. But the kids have been doing this long enough to know it doesn't matter where you're ranked. Somebody could be ranked No. 10 because they don't have five runners, and then one day a kid can run outstanding and they (the team) is ranked fourth the next week. That can happen so easily."
Because the North Suncoast has become synonymous with top-level cross country teams, particularly in this decade, Presnick said being ranked is no longer like becoming a target for other teams.
"It's not as much as it used to be," he said. "This is the fifth year we have been up there (top 10). It's sort of expected now."