JACKSONVILLE -- When the bell started clanging to signal the final lap of the grueling 3200-meter race Friday at the Class 1A state track meet, a number of thoughts were racing through Grace Casagrande's mind.
First and foremost was the fact she was about to run her last lap as a high school athlete. Then there were the haunting memories of the disappointments she had endured in recent state meets. The memory of a disappointing fourth place finish in the 1600-meter run two hours earlier was also in the picture as she headed towards the finish line at the University of North Florida campus.
But the Cardinal Mooney senior put all the demons out-of-mind and out-of-sight, and concentrated on the race at hand. She first overtook Emily Chapman, of Brevard Heat, who had passed her shortly after the bell sounded. That left the final 200 meters up for grabs, but Casagrande handled it with ease, cruising across the finish line with a wide smile and a four-second win over Chapman.
"When I got to that bell lap, I was thinking how this was my last lap of my high school career. I really wanted to go out on top," the St. Louis University signee said. "All these years I've never been able to deliver at the state meet. During cross-country, I had a bad state meet, last year here at track, I had a bad state meet. I just wanted to end it on a good note my senior year. I think I did that. I am so happy."
Last fall, Casagrande finished fifth in the Class 1A cross-country state Meet
in Tallahassee. In the state track meet at UNF a year ago, she finished third in her only heat, the 800.
Winning a first-place medal in her last high school race was gratifying for Casagrande. She had envisioned a possible double-win day. But with a tightly-packed group of leaders contending down the home stretch, she dropped to fourth, eight seconds behind winner Sarah Candiano of Evangelical and five seconds behind runnerup Emily Stallings of Providence, who would later win the 800-meter run.
"I just didn't run a good race. My legs weren't there," she confessed. "But it might have helped me in the two mile. It warmed me up and it made me more hungry to go after a win in the 3200."
Casagrande said that Friday's race would be her last competitive action until she enrolls at St. Louis in the fall. She plans to run both cross-country and track for the Billikens.
"I've had some injuries and I just want to heal up. I want to be ready for college," she said.
Casagrande was the only Bradenton athlete to earn a first-place medal. Bayshore's Joy Norman finished third in the high jump, while on the boys side, Canaan Meester-Kitterman finished third in the 1600-meter race. He also took 8th in the 3200. Another Cardinal Mooney entry, Cal Turner, was 4th and 6th in the 1600 and 3200 races respectively, while Mooney's Demasrdre Patterson had an 8th place finish in the 200-meter dash.
Saint Stephen's Lauren Csubak was leading the Class 1A 800 race at the midway point, but faded down the stretch and came in 7th. It was Csuback's fourth year qualifying for state. She ended her career with four state medals, and signed a letter of intent Thursday to run both track and cross-country at St. Leo's University. Out-of-Door Academy's Madison Shaw had 7th and 11th place finishes in the 100- and 300-meter hurdle races.