By Jeff Odom
Wiregrass Ranch girls cross country runner Nikita Shah had done nearly everything in her high school career except win an individual district title.
The senior accomplished that mission at the Class 3A-District 6 meet Nov. 2 at Crews Lake Park in Shady Hills. The Harvard University commit dominated the field by completing the 5-kilometer course in 18 minutes 39 seconds.
“I feel like all my hard work has paid off,” Shah said. “I was really grateful for my past district competition. … (It was) a bit hot, but it was hot for everybody. None of us are used to running in the evening.”
The Bulls put up 47 points to capture their fifth straight district title, winning by 29 over Sarasota. Wiregrass Ranch coach Don Howard said he was proud of his team, especially Shah.
“She knew coming in she would be in front,” Howard said. “The girls, we knew we were far enough ahead of our competition that we could just relax and run for time.”
Other top times by the Bulls were turned in by senior Berlin Waters (20:14, sixth place), junior Elise Cedre (20:54, 11th place) and sophomore Addie Cornwell (21:10, 14th place).
Wiregrass Ranch won despite being without No. 3 runner freshman Madison Conway, who was participating at the regional swim meet. Howard said his squad fared well and will be prepared for regionals.
“We’ve done hill work since June,” Howard said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in San Antonio running the hills there, running there weekly. … We won’t change anything.”
On the boys’ side, Wiregrass Ranch edged Land O’ Lakes by six points to finish as the runner-up behind Sarasota. The Bulls have been shorthanded all year after No. 1 runner Ermias Bireda missed the first half of the year with shin inflammation.
Bireda (16:49) took fifth despite pulling a muscle in his back during the first lap. The senior said he knew he had to fight through the injury to keep his team in the running for second.
“I pulled something in my lower back on the first mile, so I fell off the front group,” Bireda said. “It kind of (stunk), I’m not going to lie, but I just had to score for my team and I did the best that I could.”
The Bulls placed five runners in the top 20, including Thor Alastre (16:52, seventh place), Patrick Hill (17:07, 10th place) and Ben Hall (17:18, 12th place).
Bireda said it was really special to see the team perform well, especially against a team like Land O’ Lakes.
“My team did really well … everyone on the team, they all did great,” Bireda said. “To come back and beat (the Gators), it’s definitely a great feeling.”
Land O’ Lakes was paced by juniors Travis Nichols (16:20) and Tyler Stahl (16:28), who finished third and fourth, respectively.
The three squads all earned spots at regionals, which is at Lecanto High Nov. 10 starting at 9:30 a.m.