BROOKSVILLE — In a way, Thursday afternoon’s meet had a familiar feel. But this time, there was something significantly different.
For years, the Hernando/Citrus Classic has brought together all the teams from both counties to McKethan Lake on the outskirts of Brooksville. This time around, though, the meet took on a new name and new meaning, becoming the inaugural Gulf Coast Eight Conference meet.
“I think it’s great that they brought the conference back,” Citrus girls coach Roselle Latin said. “I think that’s just a great way to show the camaraderie between the two counties, and also it’s just a competitive race heading toward the postseason races. So it’s really good.”
It was indeed a good day for the Hurricanes, who placed five girls in the top eight and rolled to a conference championship. They compiled a team score of 21, well ahead of Lecanto in second with a 65.
“We’re really grateful to be in this position and to get first place,” Lattin said. “The girls right now are running mile times that are dropping and so we feel pretty confident moving into districts, and hopefully we can keep those aggressive times in a very competitive region.
“The girls did really great. We had a few girls get PRs (personal records). We had a good race last weekend (at the Land O’ Lakes Gator Invite). But my No. 1 and No. 2 ran really well. They ran pretty much the same times that they ran last weekend. But my 3, 4 and 5 all dropped times.”
Crossing the finish line first was sophomore Mackenzie Scordato, who posted a 19:56.00 to follow up a first-place 19:32.60 on Saturday at Crews Lake Park.
“I think I ran pretty good. I ran a little bit faster last weekend. But it’s a weekday, it’s a lot hotter,” Scordato said. “We had a workout on Monday, so I’m just coming off of that. But overall I did really well, I’m proud of how my team did, too. We all did really well.
“It feels really good because it’s a conference, so it’s a state-recognized meet now. That’s really cool. Hopefully it helps me at regionals and states and the bigger meets.”
Right behind her in second was teammate Taylor Koon, the junior completing the race in 20:38.16. Carleigh Steel finished sixth (21:55.79), Kendall Gibson was seventh (22:06.33) and Kaley Kjos came in eighth (22:48.03).
Lecanto was paced by Celine D’Anna in 12th (23:47.57), Elise Leturno ran a 14th-place 24:12.84, Samantha Prinner posted a 15th-place 24:15.92, Reagan Brady had a 17th-place 24:39.57 and Amberly Grace added a 19th-place 25:00.73.
Crystal River was sixth (123), led by Jordan Martynowski’s 18th-place 24:44.59. Seven Rivers Christian, participating in the meet despite not being in the GC8, had Mia McDougal run a 10th-place 23:28.04 and Maeve McDougal a 16th-place 24:37.21.
In the boys race, Lecanto edged Nature Coast, 67-70, as the Panthers claimed a conference crown. Citrus was fourth (84) and Crystal River was seventh (142).
“It’s a huge deal because we’re representing our conference well,” Lecanto boys coach Nate Cuellar said. “We won this race last year, so the fact that we were able to repeat that and take another trophy home, it’s nice for our runners who put in so much time.
“They’ve come up really close several times, where they’ve had a runner-up finish. So the fact that we’re finally able to take home a trophy is going to mean a lot to them, and they deserve it for how hard they’ve worked.”
The fastest Citrus County runner was Brandon Rydzewski, a junior for the Panthers, taking fourth in 17:08.07 to beat out Crystal River senior Cody Thompson with a fifth-place 17:20.56.
Chase Wilson of Lecanto was sixth (17:34.23) and Thomas Tyler from Citrus came in seventh (17:40.33).
“I couldn’t do it without Chase, though. He was the biggest part of it all,” Rydzewski said. “He’s been helping me throughout the whole season. If it wasn’t for him, I definitely I wouldn’t be up here right now. I was keeping with him the whole race.”