Two points was all the cushion Saint Stephen’s girls cross country had Friday to ensure a trip to the state championship meet.
Gabrielle Pung’s 76th-place finish gave the Falcons the 188 points they needed at Holloway Park to edge Lecanto Seven Rivers Christian by two points and qualify for the Class 1A championship Nov. 5 in Tallahassee.
The fourth- through seventh-place teams in the Class 1A-Region 3 meet in Lakeland were separated by eight points, and Saint Stephen’s score was good enough to earn the final qualifying spot from the region into the state championship Nov. 5.
“They were very few points out of fourth,” Falcons head coach JD Wolcott said. “That’s incredibly tight in there and we’re really fortunate that our girls were as tough as they are because they were fighting for every single spot to get into contention.
“They did not have a lot of personal best days, but their fight was 100 percent there.”
Saint Stephen’s was led by eighth-grader Alysia Serterides (20th, 21 minutes, 57.29 seconds). Serterides finished nearly a minute-and-a-half before her next teammate, Madelyn Popp, checked in for a 36th-place finish in 23:24.24.
“This is her first season running with us and she’s an eighth-grader,” Wolcott said of Serterides, “so she’s gaining experience.”
None of Out-of-Door Academy’s nor Cardinal Mooney’s individual qualifiers logged the top-15 finish necessary to qualify for state.
The Falcons still finished more than 150 points out of first, as Gainesville Oak Hall scored 36 points with a trio of Top-10 individual finishes.
The Lakewood Ranch girls put together a fifth-place finish with 158 points to qualify for states, led by freshman Ava Klein’s 20:41.19.
“I think that is the first time she has finished first on the squad all season,” Lakewood Ranch coach Bryan Thomas said. “We don’t have an established pecking order, but, usually, (Andrea McDonald) leads them. Ava has been looking awfully good in practice, and being a ninth-grader, she has been gaining confidence about how hard she can push herself.”
Qualifying for states was a preseason goal, but Lakewood Ranch entered Friday seeded seventh or eighth based on qualifying times. As a result, fifth was a surprise.
“The girls were underdogs, but they really came through today,” said Thomas, who said he believes the fact the team raced twice on the Holloway Park course during the regular season helped his young team’s confidence.
Manatee’s Raquel Lespasio and Alison Ecker finished in the top 20 but outside of the top-15 cutoff for advancing as individuals to states.
In Class 2A, Autumn Macrae finished 31st (22:55.28) to lead Southeast to a ninth-place finish.
Andy Warrener contributed to this report