Wiregrass Ranch girls claim fifth straight crown
By Kyle LoJacono
The Land O’ Lakes boys cross country team had to watch Wiregrass Ranch win the Sunshine Athletic Conference (SAC) meet the last three seasons.
The roles were reversed Oct. 20 at Wesley Chapel.
The Gators won their first conference championship since 2008 by taking four of the top 11 and seven of the top-24 places to total 38 points, besting the Bulls by 14. Sunlake finished sixth and Wesley Chapel was 10th at the 13-team event.
Land O’ Lakes junior Tyler Stahl said the squad got a boost from winning Wiregrass Ranch’s invitational the week before.
“We were focused and we were confident that we were going to come in and win as a team,” Stahl said. “When you’re confident like that you have a better chance of doing well. We used that to get us through.”
Stahl took second by completing the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes 57.5 seconds. He was bested by teammate Travis Nichols, who claimed his first SAC crown by running a 15:48.
“Every practice we push each other,” Nichols said. “We’re both really competitive, but we stay best friends.”
Nichols also took first the week before at Wiregrass Ranch. He said the back-to-back individual titles shows him he is on the right track.
“It feels awesome to be able to have a good race this late in the season,” Nichols said. “I’ve been struggling the rest of the season, so it’s great to get this title.”
Gators coach Kris Keppel said his runners all set personal records (PRs) at the event. He was especially pleased with Dillon Oergel (17:12.9), who finished one spot behind teammate Jake Poore’s (17:10.5) 10th-place performance.
“(Oergel) brought it all out today,” Keppel said. “I knew he could do it.”
Nichols is excited about how much depth the squad has.
“We have big competition for who makes varsity the rest of the season,” Nichols said. “Last week at Wiregrass we had 10 guys under 18:30, which has never been done before at our school. There’s like five guys competing for that seventh spot. My brother (Trevor) is one of those guys competing for that spot.”
The Bulls were without No. 2 runner Ben Hall, who had surgery last week, and their No. 1 Ermias Bireda is not fully recovered from shin inflammation.
Bireda (16:08.5) still took third and said he is almost completely back.
“I was going for the win, but to be able to compete with the guys like I used to was good,” Bireda said. He added, “I just PRed with a month off, so it helped me know I’m close.”
The Wiregrass Ranch girls claimed their fifth straight SAC title, taking four of the top-10 places and seven of the top 14 to total 26 points, beating Gulf by 40. Land O’ Lakes finished fourth, Wesley Chapel claimed fifth and Sunlake was ninth.
Bulls senior Nikita Shah captured her first individual conference title by running 18:05.6. She was a minute slower at last season’s meet.
“Last year I had a pretty bad day,” said Shah, who won by 38 seconds. “Today was just like a regular day for me. I think my training is better, so I felt comfortable running a decent time. Last year I had to run my all to put up the kinds of times I’m putting up this year.”
Shah’s teammates Berlin Waters (19:32) and Madison Conway (20:00.4) ran PRs to take third and sixth, respectively, while Elise Cedre (19:52.7) finished fifth.
The Gators were paced by senior Katie Monds (20:45.5), who took ninth.
The next challenge for Wiregrass Ranch, Land O’ Lakes and Sunlake comes at the Class 3A-District 6 meet at Crews Lake Park Nov. 2. Wesley Chapel will run at the 2A-9 event at Anclote Nov. 1.
—Follow Kyle LoJacono on Twitter: @Kyle_Laker
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