State track and field | Lakewood Ranch's Kristin Zarrella wins state title in 800 run; Olivia Ortiz places ninth in 3,200

Senior claims state title in 800 run; Ortiz 9th in 3,200

Special to the HeraldMay 3, 2013 

JACKSONVILLE -- One finished first to grab a state crown.

The other finished ninth and did not make it to the medal stand.

But a pair of Lakewood Ranch senior standouts, Kristin Zarrella and Olivia Ortiz, will remember Friday's Class 3A state track meet at the University of North Florida forever.

Kristin Zarrella saved her best individual race for last, blazing across the finish line of the 800-meter run in 2 minutes, 16.45 seconds, almost a second and a half ahead of runner-up Danielle Avery of Naples. Zarrella threw her arms up in jubilation as she raced to hug family, friends and teammates.

"It's amazing. This is the best feeling in the world for a runner," said Zarrella, who has signed to run at Southern Miss next year. "It's what I've been going after for four years now and I finally got it. It was my last race, and I just had to win it."

It wasn't easy. She trailed after the first 400 meters and nearing the final 220-meter mark was running even with Avery. That's when the Mustangs senior made her move.

"I caught her coming around the last bend. I knew I had to make the move then, and it had to be a strong move that would last. I figured I had done enough 200-meter sprints in practice these last four years, so I could give it one more strong finish."

Within minutes of finishing, she was on the phone to her sister, Erika, who was back home at work.

"She's one of my idols, and she's just as excited as I am," Zarrella said. "It's just a great way to finish my high

school career."

Not as fortunate was Zarrella's teammate, Ortiz, who competed in the 3,200 run. It was one day shy of the one-year anniversary of when Ortiz last ran on the UNF track. That was in last year's 3,200 race and it ended prematurely for the senior distance runner as she suffered a broken femur late in the race.

Running with a titanium rod in her leg and in just her fourth race this season, Ortiz wasn't able to stay with the leaders. She finished ninth in a time of 11:31.07, nearly half a minute behind the winner, Rachel Givens of Chiles.

Afterwards, Ortiz was overcome with emotion, not because of her ninth-place finish, but because of thoughts of what happened last year.

"I just feel so very blessed to have the opportunity to run on this track again," said Ortiz, who has signed to run track and cross country at Alabama next year. "It is a feeling of closure from what happened a year ago at this time. I'm nowhere near the kind of shape I'd like to be in, but just to be able to be back here, running eight laps around the track, it's a great feeling.

"It's all part of God's plan to have it work out this way. I'm a great faith believer and to be able to come out here and run the same race that I did a year ago, it's just a wonderful feeling."

Zarrella's first-place finish accounted for all of Lakewood Ranch's points in the meet.

Sophomore Talia Falco competed in three events but failed to place in the high jump, long jump or 100 meter hurdles. No other area athlete scored points in the meet.

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