By JOHN LEMBOjlembo@bradenton.comLAKEWOOD RANCH — The finish line is in sight for the prep cross country season.
But in the eyes of Olivia Ortiz, everything really began Saturday morning at the Lakewood Ranch Sports Complex, site of the Manatee County Championship.
“We always try to take each meet one meet at a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves,” said Ortiz, a Lakewood Ranch junior. “Counties is a good start.”
Especially if the Mustangs’ dominance spills over into the postseason. Led by the fleet-footed Ortiz, Lakewood Ranch rolled to the girls team title with 15 points, breezing by runner-up Braden River (61).
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Ortiz placed first with a time of 17:49, more than two minutes better than her teammate, Devin McDermott (19:50), who took second.
“My goal was to go under 18 (minutes),” Ortiz said. “Our team is so strong, so I didn’t know if people were going to be pushing me or not. I’m usually in a big group, and it was different pushing myself. But I liked it.”
The first seven finishers were Mustangs, with Kristen Zarrella (20:07), Natalie Novak (20:14), Katie Wray (20:36), Ashley Platt (20:51) and Michelle Last (21:25) occupying spots three through seven.
It wasn’t very surprising. Lakewood Ranch is in the midst of a golden age, having won district and regional titles and finished second overall during the last two Class 3A state meets.
“I really wanted them to gear up for this race,” said coach Mary Quinn, “just really in preparation for district. It wasn’t about winning counties. ... It’s all about district, regional and state, and this is our last preparation, our last meet, before those competitions.”
Lakewood Ranch heads to Estero Community Park on Friday for the Class 3A-District 11 meet.
Despite their success beyond the boundaries of Manatee County, the Mustangs still list a county championship as one of their goals.
“Keep the tradition going. We never come in here like, ‘Oh, yeah — we got this,’” Ortiz said. “We’re never like that.”
Alexis Cullen was eighth (21:59), and Madison Daunt placed ninth (22:35) for the Pirates, while Saint Stephen’s Alexandra Howe (22:41) rounded out the top 10.
Southeast was third (86 points), ahead of Manatee (98) and Palmetto (123).
On the boys side, Bayshore’s Canaan Meester-Kitterman kept surging, winning the county title with a time of 17:02.
Manatee’s Christopher Pate was second (17:05).
It was the fifth first-place finish of the fall for Meester-Kitterman, who took gold during invitationals at Venice and Englewood Lemon Bay, as well as the Manasota Track Club Invitational and the Bradenton Runners Club Invitational.
Lakewood Ranch totaled 41 points to win the team title, edging past Manatee (44). The Mustangs placed four runners in the top 10 — Evan Dipsiner (third, 17:33), Mitch Arnold (fourth, 17:37), Quintin Wampler (eighth, 18:08) and Joshua Napier (10th, 18:15).
Fadi Samad was fifth for Bayshore (17:41), Sam Dorman placed sixth for the Hurricanes (17:52) and Spencer Nora was seventh for Saint Stephen’s (17:58), which placed third with 92 points. Bayshore was fourth (92), followed by Southeast (122), Palmetto (146) and Braden River (167).