The Lely Cross Country Invitational hosted a record 32 schools on Sept. 18, marking its 15th year.
The Marco Island Academy girls, with five freshmen, raced against experience and still came in at 18th. The lone boy, Fermin Mendoza, set a personal best in his race.
Lely’s Gage Wheeler of Marco, raced to seventh in leading his team to a fifth-place finish. Marco’s Rosie Poling, placed 10th, leading her team to a ninth-place finish.
Olivia Watt led her MIA team with in a time of 22:42. Watt was an outstanding runner at Marco IslandCharter Middle School a year ago, but the high school competition is much different. “There are more experienced runners, juniors and seniors, that are extremely fast,” she said.
Mendoza is proud to represent MIA. “I joined the cross country team because I want to be a strong representative for the school,” he said. He raced to his personal best of 21:30, topping his personal best by three minutes!
“The (boys) team has all good athletes, but they are playing football,” Mendoza added. All run track in the spring.
Wheeler has been running cross country and trackfor three years. He ran a personal best time of 17:08.2 at the meet. A solid athlete, Wheeler chose running over other sports. “Initially, I ran during the summer to keep in shape, but once I got into it I really liked it more than other sports” he said. “Our team is constantly improving, giving us a chance to go to the state meet.”
Poling, who was all everything at Charter Middle School, has been challenged at the varsity level. A sophomore, she had her best time of the season, 19:43.7, at the meet.“There are more challenges at this level, it is hard work,” she said. “It is also more difficult in class. Our goal as a team is to make it to regional competition.”
Mark McGarity, Lely cross country coach, said of the record turnout: “Schools come here for the challenging, but fun, course and the good competition. Many runners beat their personal bests.”
McGarity looks ahead positively for his boys and girls teams. “They all understand we want to be in the hunt when it comes to district and beyond,” he said. “We have to keep doing our best to move on.”