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Sharks are set for strong second half, bright future

Nature Coast Tech has the top girls team in the county, and it doesn't look like it's going to step down from that position any time soon.

Midway through the season, the Sharks look like a squad that is headed to the regional playoffs for the second straight year (in two seasons of existence).

Entering Tuesday night's game against Hernando, Nature Coast was 12-2 (3-0 in Class 3A, District 6), losing to South Lake and Lecanto. Both defeats were decided by six points or less.

Sharks coach Jason Montgomery is excited about the team, with seniors such as Cara Cagan, top-scoring Mallory Freeman, leading point guard Olivia Murray and senior post player Rachel Ryman.

He also is thrilled about underclassmen such as Erin Cagan and Cherikhan Waddy, who are expected to return next season.

"But the kids that have really surprised me," Montgomery said, "are our junior varsity girls."

With an 11-1 JV squad, Nature Coast's steady stream of good players doesn't seem to be drying up. But for now, Montgomery said, the 2005 Sharks aren't looking too shabby, either.

SPRINGSTEAD STILL SWEATS: With only a few more weeks of basketball left before the district playoffs, the Eagles still are shooting for the goal of winning a few games.

Entering Tuesday night against Crystal River, Springstead was 0-9 but liked its chances.

"Last time we faced Crystal River, we played absolutely horrible," said Eagles coach Greg Linley, who was hopeful about Friday's game against Central as well.

"I'm hoping this is the week," he said. "I'm praying that this is the week."

Despite the winless record entering this week, the Eagles have made some breakthrough in practice and seem to be improving against their tougher opponents, Linley said.

Springstead lost to Lecanto last week but scored 31 points more than it did in its home opener against the Panthers.

The Eagles are starting to handle the opponent's press better and have added a "whole other page of offense," said Linley. Plus, players such as sophomore forward Hilary Fiocca and senior Lisa Urgo have improved their game.

"I still believe we can carry out our goals this season," Linley said. "If not this week, we still have some things that can happen coming up. We really need something that we can hang our hats on."

_ EMILY NIPPS, Times staff writer