You can usually tell what time of year it is by following the Lakewood Ranch cross country team.
The girls and boys squads did what they normally do in their respective region meets Friday when they finished high enough to qualify for next week's state meet.
The girls finished third in the Class 3A-Region 3 meet at Estero, and the boys placed fourth. The top six teams and top 15 individuals qualify for the state meet next Saturday in Jacksonville.
It was the seventh straight year the girls have qualified and third year in a row the boys are going.
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But it wasn't easy for either squad.
The girls have been battling injuries all season, and the boys had to overcome a subpar performance from one of their top guys to earn another trip to state.
There also was a little confusion.
Andrea McDonald, the girls top runner with a 15th-place finish, said she was the under the impression the top 25 individuals went to state and was running her race accordingly.
"I was running in about 25th place and thought I was fine. Then I heard the spectators yelling top 15, top 15 and was wondering what they were doing. Then I figured it out," McDonald said.
"I wanted to make sure I made it to states, but it's awesome to go there with the entire team. We were expecting it, but hearing it is cool."
McDonald finished the 5,000-meter run in a time of 21 minutes and 5.6 seconds (21:05.6). Sarah Fazio placed 20th overall (21:13.1), and MacKenzie Malone was 21st (21:14.4).
The other scorers for the Lakewood Ranch girls were Shay Lee in 39th place (22:13.8) and Emma Fazio in 41st place (22:15).
Sarasota's Angelina Grebe won the race (19:30.2) to lead her team past Fort Myers for the region title. They tied at 51 and went to the sixth runner, which gave the Sailors the victory. The Mustangs had 118 points.
"I was happy with how we did with all the injuries we had and the season being as long as it was. Everybody just kept it together," Lakewood Ranch girls coach Kristina Bratton said. "The early injuries scared me. I didn't know if we could pull this off. If we were healthy, our times and places would've been better, but we still pulled through."
The Lakewood Ranch boys may have found a strong tandem in freshman Kyle Wray and sophomore John Rivera that could pay dividends at the state meet.
Wray finished 11th overall (17:33.90), and Rivera was 12th (17:34.8) to help Lakewood Ranch grab fourth place with 117 points. Fort Myers was first (70), followed by Sarasota (73) and Tampa Robinson (114).
"It's not a surprise to us. John has been running right with Kyle the last couple of races, and that gives us a nice one-two punch up front," Lakewood Ranch boys coach Bryan Thomas said.
George Dabbiero had what Thomas said was a subpar performance for him in finishing 43d (fifth for Ranch, 18:45.7), but the Mustangs had some other runners step up.
"George was off a little bit, so Brice Easton, who is normally our number five runner, had to move up and ran a good, solid number four for us (37th overall, 18:39.20) to make sure we had a good team score," Thomas said.
Senior Read Corley also kept the Mustangs in the thick of things by finishing third for the team and 24th overall with a time of 18:12.20.
"We are very excited. Our goal all along was to make it back to states, and the boys worked extremely hard to make sure we would be there," Thomas said. "To finish fourth is a solid performance. I am very pleased. We are looking forward to going back to the state finals and improving on what we've done the last two years at state (20th and 19th last year). The goal is to get better than that."