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Team effort pays off

It was shortly after 2:30 p.m. when Central girls cross-country coach Juliann Davila arrived at practice Wednesday.

She was not surprised to find that her team already had started warmups.

"They already know their routine," Davila said. "They know what they're supposed to do. They know they're supposed to warm up in the beginning. It's not like we have to be on them constantly all the time."

Her runners' work ethic and single-minded focus have been two of the biggest factors in the Bears' ability to reach the state meet in Davila's first season.

Roxanne Ceccarelli, Kerri Costanzo, Magen Loew, Amanda Adams, Felicia Fritz, Christine Strally and Brianna Mahoney will represent Central in the Class 3A race Saturday at Ed Radice Park in Tampa.

Pretty heady stuff for a team whose main goal before the season was for each of its runners to run under 22 minutes.

"I didn't expect this at all," said Davila, who replaced Lisa Bilodeau in July. "Coach Bilodeau said she had won five titles over the past five years, and I felt it was tough shoes to fill. But the kids are great. They're wonderful athletes, and they're hard workers."

Central ran during the summer and put in double sessions throughout much of the season. Though they were off weekends (not counting Saturday meets), many runners used the time to work out on their own.

"They're very dedicated," Davila said. "You have to be in this sport."

Central also was a little unconventional.

Unlike many programs, where there are separate boys and girls coaches, Davila and boys coach Richard Ortiz work with both squads. The arrangement has allowed Davila to learn from Ortiz (a former runner at Southern University) and gave the girls a chance to run with the boys, including individual qualifier Kurt Lee.

"A lot of it has to do with that Coach Ortiz is the girls track head coach, and we work with the same kids here that are going to be doing track and field," Davila said. "We just thought we'd try it out and, actually, I like it a lot."

Central ran well throughout the season but gained momentum at the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference meet, which it won Oct. 26. After placing second at the Class 3A, District 3 meet, the Bears qualified for state by placing third at the Region 2 race last week at Belleview.

"Not that we weren't excited before, but that (GCAC title) just did it for them," Davila said. "Now, ever since then, we're kind of laid back here for states. We've made it this far so they're focused, but, at the same time, whatever happens they're happy that we're making it to states."

For the second straight week, Central was led by Ceccarelli, its most-improved runner. The sophomore ran behind Costanzo and Loew for much of the season before taking the lead with a sixth-place finish (21:42.61) at the district meet.

Ceccarelli placed a team-best 12th (21:10.59) at the region meet despite falling down and being picked up by Adams.

"She's been really focused," Davila said of Ceccarelli. "She really surprised me. Not that I didn't expect much out of her, but all season it's been Magen and Kerri battling it out and then, out of nowhere, here she comes."

Ceccarelli was one of three Bears among the top 17 at the region meet. Costanzo was 16th in 21:20.35, Loew 17th in 21:28.03.

Though its top three are the most visible, Nos. 4 and 5 Adams and Fritz often pick up the points Central needs to complete its pack up front.

Adams is a co-captain and one of two seniors on the team. Fritz has been bothered by knee and hip injuries but has great potential if she can stay healthy.

Strally, the other captain, and Mahoney, a senior, add veteran leadership at the sixth and seventh spots.

So, what does Davila like most about her team?

What's not to like?

"I'm very excited, and it's a difference when you're working with kids who really care to be there in all aspects," Davila said. "Their grades are great, their attitudes are great, their personalties are great, and, on top of that, they're good athletes."

_ Frank Pastor can be reached at (800) 333-7505, ext. 1430, or at pastorsptimes.com.

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