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Martone feels at home in more ways than one

Cheri Martone learned basketball as a kid, starred at Citrus and played at Central Florida Community College. It was in her blood.

But in the early 1990s, Martone decided she needed a break. It was time, she thought, to focus on something else. So that's what she did.

"Coaching wasn't really something I wanted to do right away," Martone said. "I wanted to get my teaching career started."

Now 38, Martone is back on the court.

The Citrus coach, midway through her first season, replaced longtime coach Bruce Nelson, who won 305 games in 22 seasons and guided the Hurricanes to the Class 3A final four in 1994. Nelson had been Martone's coach at Citrus, where as a forward from 1979-83 she set several school records.

"I really love basketball," Martone said. "I thought that when it came open it would be a good opportunity to coach. I graduated from Citrus and that made me want to go back there. I had offers from other schools, but I really wanted to come here."

Martone had spent several years working with local youth leagues.

"I was never that far from the game," she said.

Last season, Martone joined the Citrus staff as junior varsity coach.

From the time Nelson announced in October 2002 that the 2002-2003 season would be his last, he said he hoped Citrus would hire Martone, who teaches at Pleasant Grove Elementary. "I thought she'd be the perfect successor," Nelson said."

Martone's mission is not an easy one. Last season's team won 23 games but graduated all five starters, including Times All-Citrus/Hernando Player of the Year Katie Steelfox. This season's squad, one of the area's youngest (the 'Canes have two seniors), is 3-9.

"I basically get to rebuild it, start from scratch," Martone said. "Most of the girls feel comfortable with the way I'm doing things. Some of the older girls had a little trouble at first because they were used to (Nelson). But things have come around. I expect next year to be a lot better. To me, this is a year-round job. It's a big challenge."

As her team develops, so has Martone.

"I've learned a lot of things every day," she said. "I've learned what I want to do differently next year. I feel like I'm growing, and I want to continue to do that. I really like it. I really like the kids. When you get involved with kids, it gets you involved with the community. I feel in a sense I'm giving back to my community. And I know a lot of the teachers that are still here. It's pretty neat to be back on your home turf."

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