One year after injuries kept the Lecanto girls from advancing to state, they are headed there as regional champions.
Lecanto claimed the Class 2A, Region 2 title Saturday at Burton Smith Park by defeating seven state-ranked teams. The Panthers finished with 57 points, nine better than second-place Cocoa Beach.
Senior Amanda Howard, 91st in the 2000 regional, led Lecanto by finishing third in 18 minutes, 47 seconds. Deidra Witherspoon and Nicole Mailloux were 10th and 15th, respectively.
Two other Lecanto runners placed in the top 21.
"It's sweet," Lecanto coach Dan Epstein said. "The girls deserve it. I'm very pleased."
Gulf, which placed fourth, was the only other North Suncoast girls team to qualify for state. The Bucs were led by Melissa Dattoli (ninth) and Cindy Wade (12th).
The top six teams and top 15 individuals advanced to the state meet Nov. 17 in Tampa.
Citrus got strong performances from Denise Jay (19th) and Julia Schuy (26th) but missed state by one spot. The Hurricanes finished two points behind sixth-place Rockledge.
"We have nothing to be ashamed of," Citrus coach Bob Goddard said.
Rockledge, bolstered by the first-place finish of Sean Burris, won the boys title with 75 points. Citrus, which had two top-five finishes and 87 points, was third.
Wesley Chapel, a third-year program, reached state for the first time by placing sixth, led by Kurt Able (fourth) and David Forry (eighth).
"It's awesome," Wesley Chapel coach Fran Helfrich said. "I'm in shock. I thought we'd be seventh or eighth."
Citrus won regional titles in 1999 and 2000, but three of its runners had the flu.
Tony Lyons, a district champ last week, paced the Hurricanes with a second-place finish. C.J. Bryant was fifth, and Cliff Bryant was 17th. Gulf's Scott Berry placed 13th to earn a spot at state.
3A-3: Mitchell gets help from unlikely source
LARGO _ Mitchell's Sean Hatfield had run varsity races before but never finished in the top five on his team. Meaning he had never scored.
That wasn't supposed to change Saturday but it did.
With teammate and usual No. 5 David Stricsek struggling, Hatfield decided this was his opportunity. Picking off runners near the back of the pack, Hatfield finished 69th, enough to get his team to state.
Led by another outstanding effort by Jeff Masterson and Danny Sheehan and anchored by Hatfield for the first time, the Mustangs finished fifth with 128 points to qualify for next week's state meet.
Had Mitchell relied on Stricsek's score, it might have missed out on its first state appearance.
"When I caught up to David, I knew something was wrong," said Hatfield, a sophomore who ran a minute faster than he ever had. "He said, "I can't breathe.' I just thought, okay, I have to do something. I sped up and passed five runners and then kept picking people off.
"I finally get to count."
Bradenton Lakewood Ranch won the team title with 105 points, and Eric Beights of Naples Lely won the individual title in 14:38.
Masterson was third in a career-best 15:23 and passed Seminole's Gordon Redshaw in the chute. Redshaw beat Masterson by five seconds at districts.
A trio of Pasco County girls _ River Ridge's Samantha Jacobsen and Danielle Coyle and Mitchell's Nicole Guercio _ will join the Mitchell boys at state.
Jacobsen, a freshman, was the top finisher, finishing in 19:14 for eighth. Guercio was 11th, and Coyle was 14th.
Last year, Coyle was 22nd at regionals.
Guercio went to state last year, and her goal Saturday was to repeat and finish in 19:30.
She met both expectations, running a 19:18, far better than her previous career-best of 20:06, and staying with the pack.
Ridgewood's Lizzie Sheridan finished 20th.
Estero won the girls championship with 72 points. River Ridge finished eighth, and Mitchell was 10th. The girls individual winner was Naples' Lindsay Gualario in 18:39. _ JOHN C. COTEY
3A-2: Central boys claw their way to state
BROOKSVILLE _ Two years ago, the injury-riddled Central boys team missed qualifying for the regional meet by one point, snapping a string of seven consecutive state appearances.
Injury and illness plagued the Bears again this season, but they persevered to advance to state for the second straight year and ninth in 10 seasons.
Trever Scales shrugged off a cold to finish 10th, and Central overcame the loss of injured No. 2 runner Joel Crandall (calf tendinitis) to place fifth on its home course.
"These kids stepped it up today to qualify for states," Central coach Vic Cervizzi said. "I didn't put pressure on them. I just said, "Top six. That'll be a win for us if we do that.' "
Ocala Vanguard's Steven Hassen won in 14:57. Flagler Palm Coast claimed the team title.
Scales finished in 16:06. He was followed by Aaron Henley (26th), Kurt Lee (30th), Joey Costanzo (33rd), Adam Dixon (34th) and Bryan Gordon (35th).
Cervizzi said Central drew motivation from No. 7 runner Justin Wakeley (73rd), a hard-working senior who got a rare start because of Crandall's injury.
"It may not be a great experience, a winning time, but it's one I'm going to remember for the rest of my life because of what the kid has done," Cervizzi said.
Springstead's Lindsay Boldt placed 10th in the girls race to go to state for the third time. Her 19:42 was a personal best.
Plant placed five runners among the top 13, including winner Mallory Giordano (18:32), to take the team title. _ FRANK PASTOR