TALLAHASSEE -- Competing in what is considered a tough field of female runners, Lakewood Ranch asserted it is still among the elite teams Saturday at the Class 3A state cross country meet at Apalachee Regional Park.
Riding the legs of standout seniors Kristin Zarrella and Natalie Novak, the Mustangs placed fifth overall.
As expected, Estero easily won the state title with 42 points. It was a dogfight among the next six teams with Lakewood Ranch more than holding its own with a score of 188. Fort Walton Beach was second (138), followed by Tallahassee Chiles (159) and Merritt Island (176).
"I am excited to come in the top seven. Finishing fifth is the best I could've hoped
for," Lakewood Ranch head girls coach Kristina Bratton said. "It's a great accomplishment. They all ran to their full potential and improved their times from when we ran this course in the pre-state meet early in the season. They looked totally different from then, stronger and more confident."
Zarrella, who has been the Mustangs' top runner all season, led them again, placing 19th with a time of 19 minutes, 16.64 seconds to top her season personal best by more than 30 seconds.
"Getting into the top 20 was definitely a goal for me," Zarrella said. "I am so glad I pulled that out and our team got into the top five. It was cold, but I liked that because I was sick all week and I was able to wear my lucky headband. I definitely felt weaker than usual, and the cold weather helped me. My strategy was to finish strong at the end."
Novak, who was ahead of Zarrella heading into the final mile, placed 26th and broke the 20-minute barrier (19:25.11) with a personal record time.
The other scorers for Lakewood Ranch were Katie Wray (56th place, 20:03.66), Michelle Last (63d, 20:10.67) and freshman Julia Ortiz (70th, 20:20.80).
"This was my first time as a coach that I've been to states, but I've been there as a runner, and I try to be as inspirational and comforting as possible because it's a lot to deal with," Bratton said. "You have all these teams, and the weather is cold, and the course is hilly. They did great, and our team is still kind of young. Running in the pre-states helped. After that, they got in a lot more mileage. It's very encouraging for the future."
The top local finisher in 3A for the boys was Bayshore's Canaan Meester-Kitterman. Running as an individual, the junior finished 44th in a tough field and turned in one of his best times of the season (16:28.41).
"I would've liked to come in at a better spot. I was hoping for top 20, but it was a good time," Meester-Kitterman said. "I was running with the front pack for the first two miles and was in the top 20, but died out. I went out way too fast in the beginning. It was my best time since North Port (16:09). It was really cold, and I don't like running in the cold. Overall, it was an OK season for me."
Making their first appearance at the state meet since 2005, the Lakewood Ranch boys finished 20th, which met their goal. The top runner for the Mustangs was Mitch Arnold, who placed 86th (17:03.26).
The top individual female runner from the area in 1A was Cardinal Mooney's Grace Casagrande, who finished 13 with a time of 19:22.54. The Saint Stephen's girls placed 17th in the Class 1A meet and were led by Lauren Csubak, who finished 34th (20:30.74).
In boys Class 1A, Out-Of-Door-Academy's Peter Runge was 35th (17:08.90), and Cal Davidson Turner from Cardinal Mooney was 71st (17:45.62).