By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch boys and girls cross country have been a constant at the front of conference meets the last two seasons, but it was a new cast of Bulls that dominated this year.
The boys won their third straight conference title with 30 points, 38 better than second-place Land O’ Lakes. The girls claimed their fourth consecutive crown by finishing with 25 points, besting the 57 tallied by runner-up Gulf.
The Bulls claimed the Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) titles despite having to replace four of the top-seven runners on both squads to graduation.
“We entered this year with a big question mark hanging over us,” said girls coach Don Howard. “Our returning girls from last year’s top seven, Nikita Shah, Elise Cedre, and Chelsea Davis, have all improved, and the newcomers have become top runners in the area.”
Those newcomers include Berlin Waters, Savannah Goode and Addie Cornwell. Howard also praised Emily Payne, who has moved up five spots from the No. 10 position on the squad last year. She ran a 21:13 at the SAC meet to finish in eighth place.
Boys coach Chris Loth was equally pleased with his squad’s performance.
“The kids are motivated to be all-conference, so they knew what they had to do and where they had to place,” Loth said. He then added, “Considering the importance we place on this meet I’m very proud.”
Loth’s boys claimed four of the top-eight and seven of the top-14 spots at the meet, which was at Crews Lake Park on Oct. 22. Senior Sam Hippely won the individual SAC title by running a 16:19, besting Land O’ Lakes’ Travis Nichols by 12 seconds.
“Sam ran faster than any Wiregrass Ranch runner at Crews Lake in our school’s history,” Loth said. “He ran an exceptionally smart race and really put the hammer down the last mile.”
The Wiregrass Ranch girls claimed six of the top-nine spots in the race.
“We went into the meet with a goal of placing six girls in the top 10, which would earn them first team all-conference honors, and I was excited to see them accomplish our goal,” Howard said. “Each runner had certain girls they were to be racing with or against, and all our girls came through.”
Bull junior Nikita Shah finished in 19:05, giving her the runner-up spot 34 seconds behind the championship performance by Gulf’s Kari Grippo.
The SAC meet included the cross country teams from the 13 public schools in Pasco County. Howard said, considering the local competition and the squads’ losses from last year, he is happy with the legacy Wiregrass Ranch is building.
“The success of this year’s team begins to establish that we are developing a program; a program that can be competitive year after year,” Howard said. “The girls have great confidence as we anticipate the district meet and look forward to a great matchup with top-five ranked St. Cloud High School at our regional meet. Beyond that, we are setting a goal to return to the top 10 in the state finals.”
Wiregrass Ranch will compete in the Class 3A-District 6 meet at McKethan Lake Park in Spring Hill on Thursday, Nov. 3 starting at 11 a.m. Other area teams in the race include Land O’ Lakes and Sunlake.