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Lecanto girls make big impression at invitational

Taylor Cooke and the Lecanto girls did not get a chance to defend their small-school race title at the flrunners.com Invitational on Saturday.

Organizers wanted them to compete in a stronger class, moving the Panthers to the invitational event. Lecanto, a Class 2A school, proved it belonged in finishing third behind 4A Lake Brantley and Orlando Oak Ridge in Tampa.

"They kind of wanted to go back and defend, but to go to a race where a lot of people don't know you, you get recognized that way," Lecanto coach Dan Epstein said. "Finishing third in that field was a pretty good showing for a small school like Lecanto."

Cooke won the small-school race last year with a performance of 19 minutes, 59 seconds, and she clocked in at 20:27 on Saturday to finish ninth overall. That time was two seconds faster than Hernando's Leela Hadsock, who won the small-school event in 20:29.

"Taylor was a little disappointed, but I'm trying to convince them that we haven't been able to train correctly because of these stupid hurricanes," said Epstein, noting that the girls had to run alone again Monday due to the school cancellation. "You can only improve so much with distance (training). Until you get speed work, your times are not going to drop."

Tara Haddock (21:22) finished 24th overall for the Panthers, and Jillian Swartz continued what Epstein called an "outstanding" season by placing 36th in 21:58.

The boys did not fare as well, competing with the larger teams and taking 18th out of 22 scored teams. Dustin Elder was the fastest, 48th in 17:49.

UP NEXT: Area teams will travel to Hernando High on Saturday for the Zak Lukas Invitational. The girls race is at 8:30 a.m., boys at 9:10 and junior varsity to follow. Nineteen squads are confirmed to compete, including Lake Weir, Dunnellon, all Hernando County schools and all Pasco County teams except for Wesley Chapel.

CROSS COUNTRY HONOR ROLL

GIRLS/TEAM TIME RACE/DATE

Taylor Cooke, Lecanto 19:51 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Holly Van Sicklen, C. River 20:47 Lecanto Inv., Sept. 18

Tara Haddock, Lecanto 21:22 Flrunners, Sept. 25

Kaela Fitzpatrick, Citrus 21:52 Lecanto Inv., Sept. 18

Amy Rundio, Lecanto 21:54 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Kelly King, Citrus 21:55 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Jillian Swartz, Lecanto 21:58 Flrunners, Sept. 25

BOYS/TEAM TIME RACE/DATE

Joe Silvestro, Citrus 17:03 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Nick Norton, Lecanto 17:17 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Dustin Elder, Lecanto 17:39 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Kyle Helt, Citrus 17:43 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

Nic Farrington, Citrus 17:44 Flrunners, Sept. 25

Wayne Saxer, Lecanto 17:53 Red Mule 5K, Aug. 28

_ JOHN SCHWARB, Times staff writer

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