ESTERO -- After experiencing her "lost" weekend, Kristin Zarrella found a shining light.
The Lakewood Ranch senior came in third to lead the Mustangs to a second-place finish at the Class 3A-District 11 cross country meet Friday at Estero Community Park.
It was a nice rebound for Zarrella, who led the pack at last weekend's Manatee County meet when students monitoring the race directed her in the wrong direction. It cost her the race.
The 17-year-old started to turn things around earlier in the week when she verbally committed to Division I Southern Mississippi, where she will compete in multiple sports.
In the district race, there was no confusion for Zarrella and her teammates. The Mustangs placed three runners in the top 11 and five in the top 14 to finish with 44 points behind defending state champion Estero (20), a perennial powerhouse.
"I am very happy and content with third place, and I am proud of everyone on our team. They really pushed it," Zarrella said. "I was thinking about last week during part of this race. It was disappointing what happened, but a learning experience. It's over now, and there are more important races."
Natalie Novak, who also went the wrong way last weekend, placed sixth overall at the district meet and was second for Lakewood Ranch.
Zarrella finished in 19 minutes, 42.10 seconds. Estero's heralded runner Kacy Smith won the race (18:55.80), and her teammate, Katy Gladis Solis, was second (19:28.20).
Novak ran a 20.19.10. Her sophomore teammate Katie Wray was 10th (20:48.20), and freshman Julia Ortiz was right behind at 11th (20:55.30). Rounding out the scoring for the Mustangs was junior Michelle Last (21:16.00), who placed 14th.
"I am happy with how we did. This is a very tough course. There is a big hill you have to run up twice and a lot of sand," Lakewood Ranch head girls coach Kristina Bratton said. "Kristin ran very well and rose to the occasion. We are hoping to get second at regions. It should be between us and Fort Myers."
The Lakewood Ranch boys also finished second with 70 points to qualify for the region meet with Estero (31) easily cruising ahead of the rest of the field.
Mitch Arnold led the Mustangs by placing eighth (17:32.60). Josh Napier was next for Lakewood Ranch, finishing 11th (18:02.40), and Steven Estes was 12th (18:04.00). The rest of the scoring came from George Dabbiero (19th) with a time of 18:20.90 and Jon Milkovich (20th, 18:21.90).
The first four teams and top 13 runners advance to the region meet. Braden River's Alexis Cullen placed 13th with a time of 21:04.90 to advance. The Pirates' Matthew McFall was edged out, placing 15th (18:06.07).
The Braden River girls just missed qualifying for regions with a fifth-place finish (132) behind Punta Gorda Charlotte (116). Palmetto was eighth among nine teams with a score of 234. The Braden River boys placed eighth (221), and the Palmetto boys were ninth (242).
Life has been good for Zarrella since the county meet with her commitment and opportunity to compete in cross country, winter indoor track and outdoor track in college. She also considered Wyoming and Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.
"It's been my dream since I was 8 years old to run in college, and now it's happening," Zarrella said. "I am so grateful. I took three official visits and the minute I got to Southern Mississippi I knew that was the place for me. It was a no-brainer. The campus is beautiful, and I loved the coach.
"Wyoming was nice, but it was too cold for me. My first year at Southern Miss. I will do some experimenting, but in track will concentrate on middle-distance running like the 800 and 1,500 meters. I definitely see the school as a home for me."