It’s early November, it’s Friday and it’s Florida.
Chances are your heart belongs to football and you’re readying yourself as Lakewood Ranch, Manatee and Palmetto begin their journey into the playoffs next week.
But while the boys under the Friday night lights garner the crowds, it’s a group of girls who are deserving of your attention.
Fittingly enough, they are in action today.
It’s Lakewood Ranch’s girls cross country team, which is looking to win its third straight regional championship during today’s Class 3A-Region 3 meet at Charlotte Sports Park.
The race begins at 8:30 a.m., though the Mustangs’ pursuit began long before that.
Cross country is a different animal -- every team and every runner is assured to be on the starting line come the district meets, so the regular season is used as a primer. Lakewood Ranch’s season has now become about today, and about reserving a spot during next Saturday’s state meet at Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City.
It’s funny what a difference two years make. The Mustangs were young and full of potential in 2009, a bunch of good runners with no real track record at the varsity level.
That’s all changed. Lakewood Ranch wound up finishing second in the state that season, and duplicated the feat last year, en route to rolling to district and regional titles for the second straight year.
So the Mustangs are now a known entity. Names like Olivia Ortiz and Kristen Zarrella (who missed last week’s district race with an abdomen injury) and Devin McDermott have become synonymous to anyone following the state cross country season.
That’s what has made the last two years, and thus far this one, so impressive -- one of the hardest things to do in sports is win when everyone is expecting you to. No longer a secret who can sneak up on anyone, the Mustangs have won, have succeeded, all while everyone had targeted them long before the season began.
Today won’t be easy, especially since the Mustangs will once again be head-to-head with Estero, the top-ranked team in the state which beat Lakewood Ranch during last week’s district meet.
It’s supposed to be hard, and Lakewood Ranch doesn’t have to win today to reach the Class 3A state meet in Dade City. And three straight state trips is a solid accomplishment, as well, one that shouldn’t be ignored regardless of how the Mustangs fare this morning in Charlotte County.
But if the Mustangs do pull it out and wind up heading back north with another regional championship in tow, it should be considered a streak worth savoring.
Fall will always belong to football down here. But the running Mustangs from Lakewood Ranch have managed to take a little piece of the season for themselves.