ESTERO — Northside Christian senior Garet Marr looks back on the Mustang boys’ inaugural season as a period of …well …looking at backs.
A lot of backs, gliding farther and farther from him and his teammates by the meter.
“We only had seven people on the team,” Marr recalled of that 2007 campaign. “We got last every (race). I mean, it wasn’t even close.”
Friday morning, on a quirky course laid out on a sprawling community park in south Lee County, the Mustangs’ breakneck evolution was completed. Instead of bringing up the rear, they ran well enough to bring home their first region title.
Led by fourth-place junior Mario Ojeda and sixth-place sophomore Joe Chapman, the Mustangs won the Class A, Region 3 crown with 72 team points. The Northside girls, behind fourth-place junior Katelyn Greenleaf, placed second (109).
How the boys planned to celebrate remained unclear as the race ended. At that juncture, they still were coming to grips with the surreality of their score.
“Listen, we haven’t been here before,” coach and program founder David Madasz said with a laugh.
“The key is, our athletes from other sports have come over and done cross country. I’m also the basketball coach, so I have four guys that are on the basketball team out here running right now. …They’re not cross country runners, but they’re competitors.”
Ojeda, also a soccer player, was one of only five boys in the region to eclipse the 18-minute mark on the daunting course that featured a steep grass hill, hairpin turns, shell paths, and dozens of yards of beach volleyball sand.
That small group also included runner-up Blake Arnold of Admiral Farragut (17:43.19), who qualified for the Nov. 20 state meet as an individual. The top six teams and top 15 individuals earned state berths.
Shorecrest (142) edged Admiral Farragut (147) for the sixth and final team berth. Clearwater Central Catholic’s Saul Ramirez (11th in 18:22.99) and Keswick Christian’s Jacob Endrulat (12th in 18:27.22) also earned state berths.
Greenleaf led what Mustangs girls coach Jeff Goodwin called a tremendous team effort to hold off third-place Keswick Christian (117) and fourth-place Indian Rocks Christian (117) for the runner-up spot.
Naples Community School, behind elite-level senior twins Kathryn (17:43.63) and Erika (17:46.95) Fluehr, won the event (50). No other girl in any of the three regions staged Friday at Estero Community Park came close to eclipsing 18 minutes.
“Everybody ran well. You can’t go by the times; it’s a tough course,” Goodwin said. “We told our girls (which opponent) they needed to run with. And every assignment they had we were ahead of that person. We were feeling good.”
Behind top-10 finishers Miller Judge and Yuri Costa, Tampa Prep’s boys earned a state berth with a fifth-place finish. No local girls team qualified, but two freshmen — Seffner Christian’s Sabrina Whiting (fifth in 20:05.42) and Tampa Prep’s Claire Snyder (seventh in 20:13.59) — snagged state berths.