NCT: Digging in to defend

In 2012, Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera became the first baseball slugger since Boston’s Carl “Yaz” Yastrzemski in 1967 to earn the prestigious Triple Crown for leading the American league in batting average (.330), homers (44) and runs batted in (139).

Last year, Nature Coast Technical’s girls cross-country program celebrated its own Triple Crown capturing for the school’s first-ever Hernando County, district (Class 2A, District 7) and regional (2A-Region II) titles.

The frosting on the cake was placing 13th, out of 24 teams, in its first-ever trip to the FHSAA Finals in Leon County.

In a memo to opposing teams, second-year Lady Shark mentor Eric Milholland isn’t about to ease off the proverbial gas pedal this season with seven returning lettermen – all ranked ninth or better in the final Honor Roll.

NCT will defend its crowns behind: seniors Crystal Burchhardt, Mary Thomson, Alyssa Deligio, Brianna Horn and Kaylee Arvay, and sophomores Alexa Lacy and Summer March.

Burchhardt, Thomson and Lacy are all returning All-County performers from a year ago.

Burchhardt notched the county’s second-fastest 5K time to Springstead’s Tiana Newton (20:22.64-20:28.60).

Lacy (20:29.30) and Thomson (20:36.43) didn’t trail by much ranking third and fourth overall in the local circuit.

Newcomers to the team include: sophomore Teresa Piccinini and junior Jacey Vidaud.

“We have the numbers, but the heart and soul is not there,” indicated a perplexed Coach Milholland. “That’s why we’re not running Saturday at Lecanto. We’re simply not ready yet. There’s plenty of potential, but we’re not where we should be.”

According to Milholland, the only missing piece from last year is Brielle Perlingieri, who graduated.

“Right now, we don’t have any leaders and we’re not working well together,” explained Coach Milholland. “When we only have 2-3 girls finish a workout, I’m hearing too many excuses. To me excuses are the coffins of defeat. The athletes here have to turn this around, not me. The potential is there.”

As far as the county, “We’ve got time to get it together,” noted Milholland, whose team snapped Springstead’s attempt at a county four-peat last fall. “Now, there is some soreness and some minor injuries and once we get the will, the drive will return.

“Right now, I’m giving the compliments to (Springstead’s) Joel (Myers). They’ve been working hard all summer.”

In the newly realigned 2A-7, “Gulf is pretty good; they’re not that far behind us, and Crystal River graduated a lot, but their coach does an excellent job of getting runners out,” noted Milholland.

In predicting a defense of 2A-II, “Lake Highland Prep has a bunch of talented sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade girls – so they’ll be tough,” Milholland said. “Gainesville-Eastside is also expected to do really well, too.”

???Eagles mentor Joel Myers would like to forget most of 2012. In eight races, Myers’ sixth team failed to place higher than fifth.

Not only did SHS fail to defend its county title, but the Eagles drifted behind Hernando for third in the county ranks.

In districts (3A-6), SHS placed a distant seventh, out of 10 teams at Crews Lake.

SHS’ lone constant was Newton. Newton was rewarded by earning her second Hernando Today Runner of the Year honor.

Other returning lettermen include: sophomore Alyssa Menendez, junior Amanda Santana and senior Alexandra Zieman.

What has lifted the spirits of Coach Myers is the addition of six newbies featuring: sophomores Amber Philpott, Joy Jackson, Alexandra Ede, Julia Diven and Amanda Osborn along with freshman Toni Pandolfo.

Both Philpott and Jackson supply excitement thanks to exploits during track season in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters.

Additionally, Ede is making the conversion from the 400 while Pandolfo “is a talented young athlete.”

“We’ve got a chance to be real good,” said Coach Myers, who guided the SHS track and field females to the Hernando County championship this past season. “I think we’ll be pretty good between our top three runners (Newton, Philpott and Jackson).

“What I like most? That these are great kids; they work very hard at their craft,” shared Myers. “We’ve been lifting weights and running all summer.”

On the keys for a successful season, “We’ve got to have our No. 4-5 runners come through,” pointed out Myers. “I expect Tiana to get into the low 19s this year. What will help her is the presence of Philpott and Jackson to help push her.”

On possibly retaking the county crown, “Nature Coast is definitely the team to beat,” stressed Myers. “I really don’t think they can beat our top two girls; I see a dogfight.”

Springstead will host the 3A-7 Meet at McKethan Lake.

“If we can find and solidify our No. 4-5, we’ve got a chance in districts,” Myers said. “To me, the team to beat is Belleview, and Lecanto will be right up there, too.”

The 3A-II Meet will take place at Orlando-Lake Nona. According to Myers, “Ocala-Vanguard will be one of the teams to beat.”

???Hernando High athletic director Kevin Bittinger served as the Lady Leopards’ mentor in 2012.

The Purple and Gold thinclads turned heads placing fourth in the Hernando/Citrus Classic and placing third in 2A-6 at Mount Dora Bible.

In the subsequent 2A-II Meet, HHS concluded its season placing eighth out of 12 teams at Lake Nona.

With Bittinger resigning as girls coach, David Wilson assumes command of both the boys and girls programs.

Wilson inherits a squad with four returning lettermen: senior Berkley LaPorte and sophomores Dominique Reyes, Heaven Benson and Ashley Morris.

HHS’ biggest setback was junior Cindy Cacares not returning to the sport.

Cacares finished ranked 10th in the final Honor Roll in 22:25.72. She and graduated senior Tabatha Loose formed a solid 1-2 punch for HHS in 2012.

“This year’s leaders are Morris and LaPorte,” declared Coach Wilson. “Those two have stepped up their running and have helped reach out to the other girls.

“My core group is dedicated. What I’d like to see is everyone buy into what we’re selling,” noted Wilson.

In the county, “I definitely think Nature Coast and Springstead have the horses to compete (for a county title),” said Wilson. “Hopefully, we can finish third. Once we find our fifth runner, then we can talk about placing as a team.”

On 2A-7, “It’s too early to tell how we’ll do,” Wilson responded. “The key for us is finding a solid No. 5 runner.”

Like Hernando, Central High recently hired its fifth new coach in five seasons: Jen Merschbach.

Last year, CHS graduate Jen Adams guided CHS to a sixth-place finish in the Hernando/Citrus Classic before closing out the season with a 10th-place finish, out of 10 teams, in the 3A-6 Meet.

CHS does return five lettermen from last fall: juniors Jenna Barbee, Nicole Carrier, Alycia Montanez and Breanna Daniels along with sophomore Marli Zeetler.

Barbee recorded the Lady Bears’ fastest time in 2012 at 22:35.81.

Lady Bear newcomers include: sophomore Audrey Van Wagner and junior Emilee Leathers.

“We’ve had a poor start. We’ve had quite a few injuries (ankles/legs),” described Coach Merschbach. “I’d like to see us work well as a team; at motivating each other.

“The key right now is getting enough girls to compete.”

With Elisa Awtrey relocating to Springstead, Weeki Wachee hired ex-Leopard Patrick Skipper to guide the fortunes of the Lady Hornets.

Last year, WWHS failed to record a team score in any of the four meets in which it was represented.

According to Coach Skipper, who competed under Hall of Famer Ernie Chatman at Hernando, the Lady Hornets have five runners on their preseason roster including: senior Jenna Gouldey and freshmen Taylor Langlo, Yasmin Kemp, Breanna Melavy and Joanna McKinney.

“Our goal is to get five girls to districts and get a team score,” said Skipper. “We’ll see if maybe we could sneak a girl into regionals.”

“My job,” declared Skipper, “is to get the girls comfortable with running during the hottest months in the hottest part of the day.

“I’d like us to get better each day; that’s all you can do when you have four freshmen, and we’ll build from there.”


– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

TOP 10


1. Newton, Tiana 10 SPG 8 20:22.64

2. Burchhardt, Crystal 11 NCT 9 20:28.60

3. Lacy, Alexa 09 NCT 9 20:29.30

4. Thomson, Mary 11 NCT 10 20:36.43

5. Perlingieri, Brielle 12 NCT 10 20:50.10

6. March, Summer 09 NCT 11 21:21.70

7. DeLigio, Alyssa 11 NCT 6 21:24.80

8. Horn, Brianna 11 NCT 7 21:30.39

9. Arvay, Kaylee 11 NCT 2 22:17.94

10. Cacares, Cindy 10 HER 9 22:25.72

NCT: Digging in to defend
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