By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch boys cross country team claimed its third straight regional championship on Nov. 12 at Lecanto High.
The Bulls’ average finish was 16:46.42 at the Class 3A regional meet to total 57 points, 34 less than runners-up Sarasota and Chamberlain. Fourth-place Steinbrenner had 104 points, while Land O’ Lakes captured sixth, the last advancing spot, with 193.
Wiregrass Ranch was able to complete the trifecta of regional titles in a more competitive region than the previous two years. Steinbrenner, the reigning Class 2A state runner-up, moved up in classification and Chamberlain moved down.
“The last few years we were very confident in what the outcome of the meet would be,” said Bulls coach Chris Loth. “This year we knew we couldn’t afford to have an off day, so it was one of the most rewarding days we’ve had as a program.”
Wiregrass Ranch was led by Sam Hippely’s fourth-place pace of 16:24.9. The senior has constantly set the tone for the Bulls all year.
“Sam’s contributions are really immeasurable, from pushing everyone to be better at practices and leading us on Saturdays,” Loth said. “He’s had a hall-of-fame career.”
Ermias Bireda finished fifth, 3.81 seconds behind Hippely. Fellow Bulls runners David Hill and Tyler Mattera took 14th and 21st, respectively.
The Warriors were led by Tyler Lima, whose 16:44.9 on the 5-kilometer course was good enough for eighth place.
Land O’ Lakes’ Travis Nichols, who won an individual district title the week before, took 10th in 16:46.58. Fellow Gators runner Tyler Stahl’s 16:58.42 gave him 19th.
The Bulls girls squad also qualified for states by finishing as the regional runner-up. Wiregrass Ranch totaled 104 points, but was bested by St. Cloud’s 47.
“The girls finished as expected, as regional runner-up, overcoming an injury to Elise Cedre in the first half-mile that caused her to run about 45 seconds slower than she would have,” said Bulls girls coach Don Howard. “St. Cloud was the better team yesterday just as we have been the best team in our region the past two years.”
Wiregrass Ranch’s Nikita Shah finished as the individual runner-up by posting a 17:55.48, the second straight week she has cracked the 18-minute mark.
“Nikita’s time of 17:55 puts her in the conversation for medaling at the state meet for sure,” Howard said. “Very excited for her chance to run with the best girls in the state.”
Fellow Bulls runners Chelsea Ginn-Davis took 14th place in 20:11.55, followed by 28th-place Berlin Waters’ 20:42.46. Cedre managed to finish 33rd in 20:00.94 despite rolling her ankle.
The Steinbrenner girls, the only other area squad at the event, were unable to qualify for states. The Warriors, who claimed the first district championship in program history the week before, came in eighth place with 218 points. Only the top-six teams or anyone in the top-15 individually earned a state bid.
Steinbrenner’s Lauren Garris, who finished 16th in 20:17.94, missed out on advancing to states individually by 4.64 seconds.
The 3A state meet is at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City on Saturday, Nov. 19. The girls race starts at 8:30 a.m., while the boys run at 9:10 a.m.
Freedom, Wharton girls advance
The girls cross country teams from Freedom and Wharton high schools qualified for the Class 4A state meet with their performances on Nov. 12 at regionals.
The Patriots’ average finish of 21:17.6 gave them 109 points, good enough to take third behind second-place Riverview’s 88 and champion Plant’s 18.
The Wildcats placed sixth, the last qualifying spot for states. Wharton’s average time of 21:41.56 gave it 149 points.
Freedom was led by Ashley Smith’s 11th-place finish of 20:33.9, followed by 18th-place Lauren Arfaras’s 21:11.5 and 21st-place Annie Tedesco’s 21:17.4.
The Wildcats’ fastest runner at the event was Mariah Henderson, who took 19th with a time of 21:12.8. Teammate Taylor Griffith finished 25th in 21:21.3.
The day was not so kind to the Freedom and Wharton boys. Neither team, nor any individual qualified for the 4A meet. The closest to earning a berth was the Patriots’ Adam Urbaniak. The junior ran a 17:19 to finish 16th, but only the top-six teams or anyone in the top-15 individually earned a state bid.
The 4A girls state meet is at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City on Saturday, Nov. 19 at 8:50 a.m.
--All results as recorded by the Florida High School Athletic Association.