Running on a tough course in inclement weather, the Lakewood Ranch girls and boys cross country teams had only one goal: live to race another day.
The Mustangs accomplished their mission, finishing fifth (girls) and sixth (boys), respectfully, in the Class 3A-Region 3 meet at Sydney Dover Hills on Saturday to qualify for next weekend's state meet in Tallahassee.
"It was a tough course with spots of soft sand and inclines, nothing like the district, which was a cakewalk for us," Lakewood Ranch head girls coach Kristina Bratton said. "I didn't care what place we got as long we made it to states. I didn't have any individual expectations; I just wanted them to make it as a team because it seems they are a lot stronger as a team."
The girls were led by Julia Oritz, who finished 15th overall (20 minutes, 16 seconds), Andrea McDonald (22nd, 20:31) and Katie Wray (28th, 20:38) followed by Michelle Last and Emily Perez.
"We had a little of an off day and that was scary for us, but they all pulled together at the end," Bratton said. "We had so many great runners last year who left, and these girls validated this team for this year. The fact that all those girls are gone and these girls did this on their own is pleasing. I am very proud of them."
The top six teams and 15 individuals advanced to state. The Lakewood Ranch girls will be making their sixth straight trip. Perennial power Estero easily took first, and district champ Sarasota was second.
It was the second week in a row the Lakewood Ranch boys grabbed the last qualifying spot, and the Mustangs will make their second straight trip to state after a five year absence.
At districts, the top four teams qualified for regions, and the Mustangs finished fourth on a tie-breaker when they had to go to their sixth runner.
The Lakewood Ranch boys continue to live on the edge and have certainly created the most drama in Region 3. They were led by Mitch Arnold and George Dabbiero, but got strong performances from freshman John Rivera and sophomore Griffin Dorsey, who were the Mustangs' third and fourth runners.
About halfway through the boys race, it started raining heavily. Josh Napier, who has been the Mustangs' No. 3 runner all year, slipped and lost his breath and eventually wound up finishing seventh among the Lakewood Ranch boys.
"I thought we were done, but then our number four and five runners moved up and ran good races, and Read Corley, who broke the tie last week for us, comes in fifth for us to pull us through again," Lakewood Ranch head boys coach Bryan Thomas said. "We've gone from almost not getting out of the districts to qualifying for states. The boys worked awfully hard this year. We finished 20th at state last year and are looking to move up."