By Kyle LoJacono
Wiregrass Ranch girls cross country runner Nikita Shah summarized the Class 3A-Ditrict 6 meet with one sentence.
“This is a good day for Wiregrass,” Shah said.
Nov. 3 was indeed a good day for the Bulls, as the girls and boys teams each claimed district championships for the fourth straight season. The four-peat is even bigger for the programs, as each lost four of its top-seven runners from last season.
“It pretty much proves we can bounce back even though we lost four seniors from last year,” said Wiregrass Ranch boy runner Sam Hippely. “Coach has gotten us better and everyone’s times are even better.”
Bulls boys coach Chris Loth said the ability to rebound after losing some of the squad’s top athletes is a testament to his runners’ hard work.
“We had a lot of bodies around all summer and they were ready to fill those shoes and get some of the glory themselves,” Loth said. “They were motivated to do that and they did. Four in a row.”
Wiregrass Ranch had 39 points at the meet, 14 less than the second place boys from Sarasota and 31 fewer than Land O’ Lakes. The Bulls claimed five of the top-14 spots and had an average finish of 16:37.3 at the event.
The Wiregrass Ranch girls’ 35 points was 38 less than second place Bellview. The Bulls claimed seven of the top-17 spots at the meet.
Wiregrass Ranch also set a Pasco girls record in a 5-kilometer race by having an average finish of 19:41.57. The county started having 5Ks in 2002.
“When we started the season we knew we had to do some rebuilding,” said Bulls girls coach Don Howard. “What they did shows that we’re actually a better team this year than we were last year.”
Every one of Wiregrass Ranch’s top seven set a personal record (PR) at districts.
“All I can say is coach Howard is a really good coach,” Shah said. “He’s able to — with four graduating seniors in the top seven — make our team better than we were last year.”
Shah, a junior, led the way with a 17:52, faster than any other time for a girl in Pasco this year. Her PR entering the race was 18:38.
“I actually couldn’t see the time at all,” Shah said. “My eyes get really blurry when I’m running and I didn’t have my watch like I normally do. I forgot it, so I had no idea what kind of time I was running. When I was crossing I looked up and saw it was under 18 minutes I was really surprised.”
Shah said running without her watch may have made her run a little faster.
“I was basically running blind,” Shah said. “I usually check it close to the end to see if I run this fast I’ll be done in 1 minute or something like that. I didn’t know today, so I was just sprinting my hardest coming in just to be on the safe side.”
The finish for Shah comes about a year after she started suffering through a bout of anemia that zapped her strength.
“It’s really exciting for Nikita to overcome it,” Howard said. “She’s worked really hard this year. She’s run more miles than I’ve ever had a girl run. She’s done more work than I’ve ever had a girl do and it’s paying off now.”
The performance made Shah the individual runner-up to Bellview’s Anne-Marie Blanev’s 17:39.1.
As for the Bulls boys, Hippely also set a PR by finishing in 16:02.7, 4.3 seconds off the championship pace of Land O’ Lakes’ Travis Nichols. Hippely beat Nichols the week before to claim the Sunshine State Conference championship, and the two have finished near the top of meet leader boards all year.
“There’s someone always out there who wants to beat you and someone you want to beat,” Hippely said. “It makes the races more exciting and it makes you run better times. If he runs fast then I have to run fast to stay up with him.”
The Bulls will compete in regionals at Lecanto High on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 a.m. Both Wiregrass Ranch squads won regional titles last year.
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