Bulls claim 3 SAC awards
By Steve Lee
WESLEY CHAPEL — Wiregrass Ranch cross country coaches Don Howard and Chris Loth couldn’t be happier about a record turnout, which led to the best season in school history for the boys and girls teams.
Now that the bar has been set high, the numbers could be even greater in the future.
In all, 51 runners (30 boys, 21 girls) turned out for this year’s teams that set school records by sweeping Sunshine Athletic Conference, Class 3A, District 3 and, 3A, Region 2 titles. Both fourth-year squads also cracked the top 10 in state meets by placing sixth.
While the boys won their first conference and district championships, the girls defended their crowns at both of those levels.
“I think it establishes us as one of the best programs in the area in the last decade or so,” said Howard, who coaches the Wiregrass Ranch girls. “We both have a lot of youth, so I think we can continue.”
Loth concurred, adding, “Having both squads establish themselves among the top tier programs in our district and region fulfills a goal we both set at the start of the season. That will continue to fuel our motivation to succeed down the road.”
No team in Pasco County garnered more SAC honors than Wiregrass Ranch with a dozen runners making the list. Next up was Land O’ Lakes with 10.
For their team’s efforts, Howard and Loth were named coaches of the year in the SAC. Plus, freshman Nikita Shah was the SAC Girls Runner of the Year.
Land O’ Lakes’ Matt Schwartz prevented a clean sweep by the Bulls by being named the SAC Boys Runner of the Year. The senior placed 11th in 16 minutes, 19 seconds at the state meet. That followed victories in district and regional races.
Although he didn’t crack the top 20, Wiregrass Ranch’s Ryan Pulsifer finished 26th for the second-highest finish among county runners in the state meet at Little Everglades Ranch. Pulsifer also was third in regionals at Withlacoochee River Park with teammate Delonzo Sharp right behind at fourth.
On the girls side, Shah ran a 19:32 to finish a county-best 17th, not far ahead of Mitchell standout Kelli Williams, who wound up 23rd. Shah was a district runner-up and took fifth at regionals.
While most of the county teams competed in 3A, the best runner in 2A was Pasco’s Anthony Plourde, who won a district title and placed fifth at regionals.
“He’s got lungs like bellows,” Pasco coach Barry Grayling said. “He never runs out of air. He runs all day.”
Although they did not fare as well as Wiregrass Ranch or Land O’ Lakes in the SAC awards, Pasco and Wesley Chapel sent boys and girls teams to regionals with the Anclote boys also advancing to that level.
All-Sunshine Athletic Conference Cross Country
Wiregrass Ranch, in just its fourth season, has five postseason championships. This year’s boys and girls teams matched postseason achievements with conference, district and regional titles. Last year, the girls won conference and district crowns. That places the Bulls among the best cross country programs in the Tampa Bay area.
Here is a list of the best runners and coaches in the Sunshine Athletic Conference as voted by coaches from Pasco County’s 12 public schools.
- Boys Runner of the Year: Matt Schwartz, Land O’ Lakes.
- Boys Coach of the Year: Chris Loth, Wiregrass Ranch.
- Girls Runner of the Year: Nikita Shah, Wiregrass Ranch.
- Girls Coach of the Year: Don Howard, Wiregrass Ranch.
- Anclote: Michaela McCarthy and Chris Sorrick.
- Gulf: Tyler Best, Colleen McAuliffe, Natalie Smith and Kara Stosur.
- Land O’ Lakes: Alea Basulto, Ashley Ford, Brooke Gonzalez, Lailoni Kailimai, Morgan Keppel, Hendrix Lafontant, Alyssa Lonsway, Zach Lonsway, Renea Porsch and Matt Schwartz.
- Mitchell: Michael Irwin and Kelli Williams.
- Pasco: Dillon Dunbar, Katlyn Eble and Anthony Plourde.
- Ridgewood: Alyssa Baladad, Tyler Camacho, Mason Chilmonczyk, Alex Coffey and Kolby Watson.
- River Ridge: Thomas Fiorello and Devon Gottman.
- Sunlake: Deena Dutkowsky, Kenneth Fessel, Guillermo Ishida, Erin Mauthner, Brendan McNellis and Robert Stewart.
- Wesley Chapel: Naphlim Olwe.
- Wiregrass Ranch: Ian Cassette, Alex Diepholz, Ariel Gray, Sam Hippely, Taylor Hixson, Ryan Pulsifer, Josh Reilly, Logan Selzer, Nikita Shah, Delonzo Sharp, Kayla Stiftinger and Kelsey Sturman.
- Zephyrhills: Lindsey Knowlton and Carrick Virtue.
— Steve Lee, Sports Editor