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'Canes continue run of state berths

When the final scores were posted Saturday at the Class 2A, Region 2 meet in Lecanto, Citrus boys coach Bruce Nelson pumped his fist and let out an emphatic "Yes!"

The Hurricanes are headed to state _ again.

For those keeping count, that marks eight straight seasons Citrus, which placed fourth Saturday, has qualified for the state meet. The 'Canes were seventh last year and fourth in 2000 and 2001.

"I'm very excited about it," Nelson said. "What was nice is that everybody on the team stepped up and ran better at regionals than in districts. I'm real happy about that."

D.J. Carella, Justin MacDonald and Joseph Silvestro set personal bests. MacDonald finished a surprising 17th, in 17:15 _ a minute better than what he posted at district, where Citrus struggled.

Dunnellon won with 100 points. Citrus had 116.

"The goal is to run a good race (at regionals) and another (at state)," Nelson said. "I feel very good.

"I think we still would have qualified for state if we had run like we did the previous week, but it sure made me feel better that we stepped it up ran well, and up to our capability."

The Hurricanes have four top 10s at state in five years.

"Dunnellon and everybody in front of us (from regionals) are so gettable," Nelson said. "That doesn't mean it's going to happen, but they're still in range."

JITTERS: The Crystal River girls qualified for state for the first time since the mid 1980s, but coach Laura Shirley thinks the Pirates could have run better in their regional. They were sixth out of 11 teams. The top six reached state.

The regional field included seven state-ranked squads, including No. 4 Cocoa Beach, which easily claimed the title by placing three in the top four.

Freshman Holly Van Sicklen, who finished 14th, was Crystal River's top performer. But most of the Pirates were slower than the previous week, when the team won its district.

"I think there were a lot of nerves," Shirley said. "They hadn't run against a lot of the teams there before."

To prepare for Saturday's state meet in Tampa, the Pirates hope to get an early look at the course Friday afternoon. Shirley printed out maps, but thinks a first-hand look will help more.

"That's very important," she said. "It will give them a feel for what they need to do. There's a difference from seeing a map of the course and running it."

SURVIVORS: Saturday's bad weather was not what the Lecanto girls wanted to see.

Four Panthers have asthma. They, nonetheless, qualified for state for the second year in a row with a fifth-place finish.

"They all have to carry their inhalers," Lecanto coach Dan Epstein said. "That weather kills them.

"They were at a distinct disadvantage before they even started. But my girls always give 100 percent every time. They never give up."

_ KEITH NIEBUHR

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