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Eagles try not to live in past

First-year Springstead coach Jessica Allnutt thinks the Eagles can change their losing ways, even if it takes a little time.

The biggest potential setbacks are the Eagles' terrible memories of last season's 2-19 record. Not to mention the winless year before that, and before that, and before that.

"My girls are really facing mental issues right now," Allnutt said. "They're so used to being last in they're district, last in their conference, that they're almost set on staying that way."

She realized she had a major problem on her hands in a recent match in which Springstead won the first game handily before dropping the next two to lose.

"It was as if they said to themselves, "Wait a minute we're not supposed to win,' " she said.

Allnutt, a former player for Tampa's Robinson High and University of Iowa, knows what a winning program is like.

She played with the Tampa Bay Juniors club team under Randy Dagostino and Carol Chalu in high school, and prior to coming to Springstead, she coached at Notre Dame Interparochial (fifth-eighth grade). There, she helped coach the junior varsity and varsity teams to winning seasons.

After accepting a job guiding Springstead, Allnutt started an AAU club team in hopes of giving Hernando County players that year-round edge that other counties have. None of her Springstead athletes signed up, but she is optimistic that will change as time goes on.

The Eagles are 1-7 (their one victory was against Genesis Prep), which is an improvement after a bleak past. Before last year's two victories late in the season, the squad lost 53 consecutive matches, a streak that dated back to 2001. Springstead is coming off a weekend tri-tournament against River Ridge and Bradenton Southeast, tough teams that clearly put the Eagles in an underdog position. But Allnutt said she felt Springstead played "respectively well" in the tourney despite the two losses. "I saw some good things," Allnutt said.

Every little bit helps. It may seem like an exhausting situation for a new coach, but Allnutt is looking forward to what she thinks will be better times. Things can only get better for the Eagles. She can teach the skills and map out strategies. Her toughest job is to change attitudes.

MATCH OF THE WEEK: After beating Gulf Coast Athletic Conference rival Crystal River early in the season, Hernando can't wait to get a crack at county foe Central on Wednesday. While Central returned several seniors and is considered to be tops in the area, starters Nikki Weaver and Erica Livengood were nursing foot and ankle injuries last week. The Bears are strong all-around, though, and have had a strong season (5-1) so far. The Leopards have been playing up to a more challenging schedule, and they could be a tough match for Central. The match on the Bears' court begins at 7 p.m.

_ EMILY NIPPS, Times staff writer