JACKSONVILLE -- A day of highs and lows for Lakewood Ranch and Palmetto athletes at the Class 3A state track and field meet started with a state title and ended with a frightening injury to the area's top female distance runner.
Lakewood Ranch's Olivia Ortiz -- who joined teammates Devin McDermott, Natalie Novak and Kristin Zarrella to win the 3,200-meter relay and finished second in the 1,600 run earlier in the day -- crumbled to the track with about three laps left in the 3,200 run at the University of North Florida.
The junior runner who had talked openly about winning a pair of gold medals in her two specialties, the 1,600 and 3,200, fell hard to the track as she was approaching the finish line.
Medical personnel quickly rushed to her and lifted her on a cart and wheeled her to a waiting ambulance.
"Please hurry, please hurry," she pleaded to attendants as they prepared to put her inside the ambulance while her mom and Lakewood Ranch officials looked on anxiously.
She was taken to a nearby hospital, but no one was willing to give details about the extent of her injury or where it was located. It appeared it was either an upper leg or hip injury.
"I was a way back and couldn't see what happened," said teammate McDermott, who was running about 40 yards behind Ortiz when she collapsed and finished seventh in the race. "I knew she had been having a problem with something, but she's so tough and so strong, I know she didn't want to be out of the state meet.
"She kept on pushing just like she always does. I know she had some problems with her upper leg. She pointed out to me earlier like her quad area. But I don't know what for sure happened to her.
"I just know she has more heart than anyone I know and never gives up or stops working. I just hope this isn't anything serious. I'm sure she'll rebound from this and be better than ever."
Ortiz did get a gold medal before her injury. She ran the third leg of Lakewood Ranch's 3,200 relay team that beat Estero by four seconds in the finals of the first running event of the meet. That first-place finish, along with Ortiz's runner-up in the 1,600 accounted for 18 of the team's 20 points, good for an eighth-place tie in the team competition.
Ortiz had run a strong 1,600 race, finishing second behind her personal nemesis, Lily Williams of Chiles, by five seconds. Williams had kind words for Ortiz after finishing the 3,200.
"I hope she's OK. Olivia is such a strong runner and a good competitor," Williams said. "We've had some great races together, and I was looking forward to another one in the 3,200 until she got hurt."
Charlene Grooms was the only Palmetto athlete to advance to the finals of her event. She came in ninth in the 100 dash. Dasha Grooms missed qualifying for the 100 hurdles by .06 seconds, and the Palmetto boys 400 relay team missed qualifying for the finals by .12 seconds.
Palmetto's Christina Atkinson placed 14th in the shot put, and the girls 400 relay team failed to finish its preliminary race.
For Lakewood Ranch, Zarrella placed 13th in the 800 run, and the 1,600 relay team of Zarrella, Mariah Higgins, Novak and Ashley Platt placed 12th.