Despite trials, Mustang girls keep winning

September 29, 2009 

Mary Quinn noticed Kristin Zarrella was running a little funny. It wasn’t until later when Quinn learned Zarrella fell at the start of the race and was trying to regain her form.

And where was Emily Wray?

Putting on her shoe that was pulled off her foot when she ran through the mud at the start line.

Wray started Saturday’s North Port Invitational dead last of 112 runners. She would finish ninth overall.

And Zarrella? Sixth.

“It was quite an interesting start to the whole race,” said Quinn, the Lakewood Ranch girls cross country coach.

It’s been quite and interesting start to the whole season.

The Mustangs won again Saturday. That’s two team titles in two meets this season.

They were paced Saturday by freshman Olivia Ortiz, who finished second. Throw in Devin McDermott’s eighth place finish and freshman Ashley Platt’s 10th place finish and the Mustangs had five of the first 10 runners. Natalie Novak was 11th and Elisha Rappleyea was 24th.

“No complaints here,” Quinn said. “But I want them to stay focused. It’s great to win the championships and the hardware, but the big races are down the road.”

Quinn is talking about districts, regionals and states. Especially regionals, which is where the Mustangs 2008 season came to an unexpected end.

“We hit a brick wall,” Quinn said. “It wasn’t a good way to end the season.”

The morning heat last November got to a couple of the Mustangs and the hotel reservations for the state meet were cancelled.

If the Mustangs have a theme for this season it is this: Unfinished business.

McDermott used those words when talking about the Mustangs surprising season-opening victory at the Mount Dew Classic in Gainesville.

Quinn used them again after Saturday’s meet.

It’s way too early in the season to be thinking about the state meet and taking home more hardware. The runners haven’t come close to their peak. But then, neither have the Mustangs, and look what they’ve accomplished.

“Why not dream big?” Quinn asked.

Why not?

The Mustangs head to Titusville on Saturday for the Flrunners.com Invitational. Thanks to their showing in Gainesville, the Mustangs were placed in the Girls Race of Champions, which means they will compete with the best teams at the meet.

“That’s a good thing,” Quinn said. “It’s going to push them harder.”

At North Port, Quinn had her girls focus on Tampa Wharton, a team they will meet again at the regionals. The goal was to pass as many Wharton runners as possible. Wharton’s Abby Ritter won the race and her teammate Erin Bailey was third, but the Mustangs beat Wharton by 40 points in the team standings.

Quinn will research Saturday’s field, looking for Class 3A teams they could run up against at the state meet. The race strategy will be the same: Pass as many of those girls as possible.

Speaking of states, the Mustangs will also complete in the Pre-State Invitational next month at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City, the site of the state meet.

Both races will come with a bit of post-season atmosphere. Challenging course. Talented runners. A little bit of pressure.

That’s exactly what Quinn and Lakewood Ranch boys coach Bryan Thomas looked for when they put together the schedule for the girls team.

“Like any other sport,” Quinn said, “you run against better competition you’re going to be a better runner.”

The idea is not to only be better runners but among the best.

“They’re goal-seeking girls,” Quinn said. “Set goals in front of them and they’re going to try and reach them.”

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