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Trio tames the beaten paths

You'd think that over the course of four years of running, the sport's infamous grind would become a little less severe.

You and I? Heck, it takes a personal visit from Tony Robbins just to get us to run 1 mile.

But Ben Martucci is a runner. And runners run.

Eight miles.

Every day.

In the morning.

On Thanksgiving.

Doesn't matter.



"It's hard to be dedicated to the sport," Martucci says. "It's one of the hardest things to do: to get out there and run 8 miles, every day."

Which is why kids like Martucci and Anna Gray and Danielle Dixon are so special.

While it isn't easy to withstand the pounding of a three-hour football practice, or the anaerobic activity of a basketball workout, it also can be fun.


It isn't fun.

Rewarding? Sure.

Exhilarating? At times.

But fun?

Heck no.

Not when you're working part-time at a Winn-Dixie or trying to plan social events with your friends or attempting to soak in all the hoopla and emotion of your final year of high school.

"It helps when you have someone to run with; it's not as hard," said Martucci, who has that partner in twin brother Drew. "But if you are working the whole day, or doing something later on (with friends), it's so tough to get up and know you have to run 8 miles."

So pardon us if we fawn a little more than usual over the accomplishments of all three of these runners.

By now you are probably familiar with what Martucci has accomplished. His every waking move is not chronicled in our newspaper like those of some football players. And he is never going to perform on Friday night in front of hundreds of screaming fans.

But in terms of pure athletic accomplishment, Martucci's achievements are without peer.

Two straight top 5 finishes at the state meet.

A second-place finish this year.

The anchor of a Leopards team that has finished second in Class 2A the past two seasons.

And that's just in cross country. The track season is yet to come.

"Cross country is a big season for me but in a way it is like halftime since I have to get back to training," he says. "It doesn't seem like it is really over yet."

Then we have Dixon and Gray. All season, the Crystal River junior and Hernando senior have been running, literally, neck and neck. They ran head to head five times this year. Gray placed ahead of Dixon three times, Dixon ahead of Gray twice.

Dixon's best race came at regionals, when she placed 11th with a time of 20:28 to advance to state.

For Gray, that region race was something of a disappointment. A mixup with the numbers used to keep track of times resulted in her being credited with a 29th-place finish. In reality, Gray finished 17th, while teammates Emi Stephens finished 29th.

Still, she would have finished behind Dixon, and she would not have advanced to state.

"I was pretty disappointed at first," Gray said. "But even if I made it to states, I would have been disqualified (because she wore the wrong number)."

Nevertheless, one race does not define a season, and Gray has earned her spot near the top of area runners.

So has Dixon.

And Martucci.

You and I?

We'll enjoy reading about them from the couch.

Boys Cross Country

All Citrus-Hernando Team

Runner of the Year: Ben Martucci, Sr., Hernando

Coach of the Year: Ernie Chatman, Hernando

Drew Martucci, Sr., Hernando: Despite struggling through various injuries this season, he ran a 17:06 at the Class 2A state meet to finish 11th overall.

Tyler Baldwin, Sr., Hernando: His emergence was critical to the Leopards' success this season. He finished 13th overall at the state meet in 17:12.

Joe Wright, So., Hernando: The future of the Leopards' program, he finished 17th at the state meet in 17:16.

Nick Farrington, Sr., Lecanto: He finished 12th overall at state by running 17:10 to lead all Citrus County runners.

Brennan McNally, Sr., Crystal River: led Crystal River at the state meet to help the Pirates finish eighth overall as a team with his 17:25 finish.

Joe Greer, Sr., Crystal River: Led the Pirates all season until the state meet, where he collapsed on the course, but completed the race.

Honorable Mention

Central - Brad Henderson, Jr.; Shadi Toro, So.; Citrus - Brandon Hardy, So.; Sam Wilburn, Fr. Crystal River - Blair Beeler, Jr.; Eric Hughes, Jr. Hernando - Pavel Stuchlik, So.; Chris Martin, Sr.; Tyler Maier, Sr. Lecanto - David Rundio, Sr., Jonathan Junkins, Jr.; Stephen Clark, Jr.

Girls Cross Country

All Citrus-Hernando Team

Co-Runner of the Year: Anna Gray, Sr., Hernando

Co-Runner of the Year: Danielle Dixon, Jr., Crystal River.

Coach of the Year: Kerri Kitchen, Seven Rivers Christian

Chloe Benoist, sixth-grader, Seven Rivers Christian: Far shorter and younger than most competitors, Benoist led the Warriors to their first state trip in the school's history. She finished 39th at the Class A meet in 21:04.9

Sasha Jaquith, Jr., Crystal River: The Pirates' mainstay ran solidly this season to help Crystal River dominate area races.

Emilianna Stephens, So., Hernando: A strong No. 2 runner for the Leopards, she finished 11th at the district meet in 21:42.

Taylor Cooke, Sr., Lecanto: Despite various injuries, the two-sport athlete competed at regionals.

Jillian Swartz, Sr., Lecanto: Led the Panthers most of the season while Cooke was injured and displayed strong leadership.

Honorable Mention

Central - Caroline Northup, So.; Citrus - Jolene Bryant, Fr.; Brandi Nichols, Fr., Carla Loer, Jr. Crystal River - Kristen Hall, So.; Melissa Schmidt, So. Lecanto - Jamie Gajos, Sr. Nature Coast - Candice Lopez, Fr. Seven Rivers Christian - Paige Cooke, eighth; Jasmine Grey, eighth.