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Friendship vanishes near finish line

For most of the 3 miles that they race, Citrus runners C.J. Bryant and Tony Lyons aid one another with helpful hints, reminders and words of encouragement.

Then they approach the finish line.

"We always kill each other at the end," Lyons said. "We always have a quiet race, even without telling each other."

Bryant and Lyons are Citrus' version of murderers' row.

At last week's Class 2A, Region 2 meet in Cocoa, Lyons placed second while Bryant was fifth as the Hurricanes finished third out of 12 teams. In just about every race this season, both have posted top-five finishes, which is why Citrus is headed to Saturday's 2A state meet in Tampa.

"They're really good," Hurricanes coach Bruce Nelson said. "And they work hard. They've been real steady. They've been good every single meet. Finishing second and fifth at regionals is awfully good by any measurement. And each was sick."

Both runners have performed well since Day 1.

Lyons, a junior and three-year letterwinner, was 11th at state last season. He's aiming for a top-five finish this week, which seems realistic. Saturday, he completed a muddy Burton Smith Park course in 15 minutes, 37 seconds _ the second-fastest time in his career. The previous week, he won the District 3 title.

The secret to Lyons' success?

"Heart and dedication," Bryant said. "He loves the sport and tries to do his best every time."

Bryant, a senior, was a track standout at Seven Rivers Christian as a freshman and sophomore. He transferred to Citrus in 2000 and made an immediate impact in cross country. After a steady season, Bryant placed 32nd at state despite running with tendinitis in his legs. This fall, he has contended for first in nearly every race.

"He's got a great finish," Lyons said. "It's probably the best on the team."

Bryant and Lyons met not long after Bryant transferred to Citrus. One day, Lyons asked Bryant if he wanted to join him for a light run. They've been friends ever since.

"We do just about everything together," Bryant said.

At practices and in meets, one feeds off the other. Each constantly pushes himself because the other never is far behind. Competition has made them better.

"You can't have a good No. 1 without a good No. 2," Nelson said.

Bryant said: "It's beneficial for both of us. Most people in Florida don't have a second runner they can run with that has equal talent. That really helps."

Bryant pushes Lyons. Lyons pushes Bryant. And for the most part, one roots for the other.

"We always joke around the day before a race that we're going to beat each other," Bryant said. "It's a fun thing to do."

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