DADE CITY — Moments after the final cross country race of her prep career, Wiregrass Ranch senior Megan Ibison felt two sensations: a southerly breeze carrying 40-degree air across her perspiring skin, and surreality.
The latter arrived when Ibison was told she had crossed the finish line of the Class 2A state championship race ahead of more-heralded teammate — and two-time Sunshine Athletic Conference champ — Ariel Grey.
"Really?" Ibison said. "I didn't think that was possible."
Funny. If any of the hundreds of runners who convened just after dawn Saturday at Little Everglades Ranch knew about stretching the boundaries of possibility, it was Ibison. Twenty-four hours before, it appeared she wouldn't be cleared to run by her doctors.
Physically wracked by a bladder infection, Ibison nonetheless had the race of her life, running a personal-best time (19 minutes, 56 seconds) to place 35th and lead the Bulls to 13th place. Grey (48th) was nine seconds behind.
"I was real close to not letting her run," said Bulls coach Don Howard, whose team's finish was four places better than last year's.
"She wasn't in pain, but she had been tired all week. I've been telling them, 'This is not a week to be tired; we've got to have our energy.' But obviously she was sick."
Ibison's valiant effort highlighted a strong — if not medal-winning — day by the North Suncoast girls on a morning when temperatures seemed to hover a few degrees above freezing. The top 10 individual finishers earned medals.
"Horrible," Ibison said of the conditions. "Definitely the hardest thing I've had to run in this year."
Land O'Lakes sophomore Alyssa Brandt, a first-year runner, posted the best time of any local girl (19:25) en route to 18th place in the 3A race. She even led the first several hundred yards. "That was a cool feeling. I never thought that would happen."
Another rookie, Mitchell sophomore Kelli Williams, finished one second slower than Brandt, placing 24th in the 4A race. "I think I broke into my second gear," Williams said, "which I didn't think I had."