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Loss turns into a lesson

Nobody wants to lose, but boys basketball coach Chris Nichols thinks the Panthers might have benefited from last week's humbling 75-53 setback to rival Citrus.

"If anything, it taught us we've got to play each and every game," Nichols said.

The loss, which ended a seven-game win streak, was a reversal from what happened when the teams played in December. The Panthers dominated that game, a 17-point win. This time around, Citrus did everything right.

"I think our kids knew (Citrus) was going to get after us," Nichols said. "They beat us on the boards, their intensity was higher, they hit shots and we didn't. Everything we did to them in the first game, they did to us."

In Nichols' postgame speech, he called the defeat a "bump in the road."

"I told them there's a lot of basketball to be played, "Don't let one game throw you off. It's just a little obstacle, let's deal with it,"' Nichols said.

The next day, Lecanto had one of the season's best practices, Nichols said. Three days after the loss, the Panthers routed South Lake 86-67.

Ryan Blakeslee and Drew Zimbro led with 18 points each, Jerry Tipton had 15 and Justin Quinn 12. Landon Baize had 13 assists.

"They really responded," Nichols said. "But it's funny, you sit and think, "Boy, I could have used some of these points (against Citrus)."'

Lecanto (12-5, 7-3 in Class 4A, District 9 before Tuesday's game against Central) is battling Central and Leesburg for the second seed in the eight-team district. But Nichols said the race to reach the playoffs is wide open.

"Anybody can beat anybody," Nichols said. "It all comes down to who's focused and who's playing the best."

The district tournament begins Feb. 17.

DISTRIBUTING THE WEALTH: The girls basketball squad was 16-4, 9-3 in 4A-9, before Tuesday's game against Central and one can point to the Panthers' balance as a key to their success.

Lecanto regularly plays 10 or more in a game.

Six players _ Kristen Dorn, Mary Ann Emberley, Melissa Foraker, Tara Haddock, Caroline Rodriguez and Tiffany Wright _ average at least 5.8 points.

NEW DIRECTION: Harold Skidmore, a 2001 grad and one of the school's greats in wrestling and weightlifting, has quit the Appalachian State wrestling team to focus on his education.

Skidmore earned two letters and posted winning records in each of his seasons at ASU, but last fall he sustained a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder.

"Between cutting weight and that injury, it made me realize I needed to focus on school," Skidmore said. "I'm not going to be a wrestler for the rest of my life."

Skidmore is majoring in physical education and plans to graduate in 2006. He hopes to become a wrestling coach. When he was home for winter break Skidmore helped the Lecanto squad.

"I've got to worry about school," Skidmore said. "I'm trying to get out and get a good job."

In high school, Skidmore graduated with 140 career wins on the mat. At the 2001 Class A state meet, he led throughout most of the final match before losing in overtime to finish as runner-up for the second straight season. In 1999, he placed fifth at state.

As a weightlifter, Skidmore was sixth in the 139-pound class as a senior.

_ KEITH NIEBUHR

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