The Lecanto boys, like every squad at Saturday's Class 2A, Region 2 meet, have the primary goal of surviving and advancing. But truth be known, the Panthers wouldn't mind grabbing the championship trophy, too.
"They want to win," Lecanto coach Bruce Sheffield said. "They lost by one (point) to Dunnellon at districts and were a little disappointed."
Can the Panthers pull it off?
Fifth-ranked Dunnellon, No. 7 Orlando Bishop Moore and No. 9 Port Orange Atlantic appear most likely to challenge No. 6 Lecanto, which has improved with every meet, is strong throughout the lineup and will be running on its home course. The Panthers are led by Jon Edge, Dustin Elder, Nick Norton and Wayne Saxer, all of whom are capable of being the team's first to finish.
"I like our chances," Sheffield said. "The kids are running real well right now. They're running their best times."
Winning isn't the Citrus boys' main objective. Reaching state, something the Hurricanes have done eight straight seasons, is the goal.
Getting there will not be easy.
The top six squads advance, and Citrus was fifth at districts.
The Hurricanes are strong at the top with D.J. Carella, Kyle Helt and Joe Silvestro but have struggled at the bottom. The streak is in serious jeopardy.
"(Hurricanes coach Bruce Nelson) does a great job over there," Sheffield said. "It wouldn't surprise me if they advance. He always has them running well when they need to."
The Lecanto girls, behind Taylor Cooke, Tara Haddock, Annemarie Saxer and Deirdra Witherspoon, are the highest-ranked girls squad at No. 6. No. 10 Bishop Moore and unranked Crystal River are the region's other likely contenders. The Panthers were District 3 champions; Crystal River was second.
Lecanto had seven in the top 13 at districts.
Cooke won individual honors, and Witherspoon was runner-up.
"We're all coming together," Cooke said. "It's nice to be running on our home course. We know where all the hills are and when the course is almost done. Everybody is real excited. We're all working together really well."
Crystal River, led by Denise Jay and Holly Van Sicklen, could contend. The Pirates, like Lecanto, are loaded with depth and experience. Van Sicklen was the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference champion. Her time of 20 minutes, 6 seconds is a county best for the 2003 season.
Citrus also has a good shot of advancing. Kaela Fitzpatrick has been the Hurricanes' most consistent performer. Caitlin Montgomery is another to watch. She was 14th at district.
_ Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337 or online at niebuhrsptimes.com.
CLASS 2A, REGION 2
GIRLS TEAMS: Bartow, Celebration, Citrus, Crystal River, Interlachen, Keystone Heights, Lakeland Kathleen, Lake Wales, Lecanto, Orlando Bishop Moore, Port Orange Atlantic, St.
BOYS TEAMS: Bartow, Celebration, Citrus, Dunnellon, Eustis, Interlachen, Keystone Heights, Lakeland Kathleen, Lecanto, Orlando Bishop Moore, Port Orange Atlantic, St.
_ KEITH NIEBUHR