By Kyle LoJacono
The Wiregrass Ranch girls cross country team finished third at the inaugural Jim Ryun Invitational in Lakeland on Sept. 15.
The Bulls totaled 116 points at the event, 57 off the first-place showing by Holy Trinity Academy. Wharton took seventh, while Land O’ Lakes was 27th at the 30-team race.
Wiregrass Ranch managed the showing without its No. 3 runner Chelsea Ginn-Davis, who has been out for three weeks with a strained back, and No. 5 Savannah Goode, who had a strained calf.
“I think they ran the way they were supposed to,” said Wiregrass Ranch coach Don Howard. “They finished third in a really big meet without our Nos. 3 and 5 runners. They were ranked fourth coming in. Timewise it’s not what the girls want to run, but they’ve run on two tough courses. I was focusing on where they finished.”
Howard said two things make the Lakeland course unfavorable for low times.
“It’s a little bit of a roller coaster; just up and down and up and down the whole way,” Howard said. “You really don’t run more than a quarter mile before you have another hill. The second thing is it’s a brand new course that hasn’t been run on enough. It’s still soft and hasn’t been packed down yet. It needs some maturing. Once it’s run on and biked on to pack the dirt down it’ll be better.”
Senior Nikita Shah, the squad’s top runner, completed the 5-kilometer course in 19 minutes 49 seconds, good enough for third place. Freshman Madison Conway posted an 11th-place performance (21:29.5), senior Berlin Waters was 23rd (22:14.9), junior Elise Cedre claimed 35th (22:40.7) and sophomore Addi Cornwell took 50th (23:42.5).
“Berlin Waters stepped up and ran third for us,” Howard said. “She did a really good job.”
Howard said Ginn-Davis started running in practice last week and expects her to compete in a race either this weekend or the following. Goode has missed only a few days of practice and she is unlikely to miss any meets.
The third-place finish comes on the heels of the Bulls winning the Seffner Christian Kickoff meet Sept. 8. Howard said Dover Trails are also difficult to run on. That, combined with it being the season opener with warm weather, created times his runners weren’t expecting.
“They just have to understand they’ve run two very hard courses in the first two races of the year,” Howard said. “They all want to run (personal records) and run the times they ran at the end of last year. It just doesn’t work that way. I keep giving them that message, but of course they’re competitive. They want to run their best times right off the bat. They’ll get there, and once the weather cools down they’ll run like they did last year and even better. If they understand that and keep working and believing, they’ll do that.”
The Bulls varsity runners will take this week off from competition. They will race Sept. 29 at the Race of Champions in Titusville as part of the FLRunners.com Invitational.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Howard said. “The girls were invited in the Race of Champions, which is reserved for the top 15 to 20 teams in the state. It’s a real privilege.”
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