On to States: Matanzas girls cross country team captures regional championship
After trucking through mud, mulch and wet grass for 5,000 meters, Matanzas senior Rain Marti could barely stand. As soon as she crossed the finish line, she dropped to her knees in a heap of sweat, pain and tears. Matanzas sophomore Kelly Steffens, who finished the race just seconds earlier, couldn’t leave her teammate behind.
“We all work together during the race,” said Steffens, who helped carry an exhausted Marti off the course. “She’s one of my best friends, and I wouldn’t want to leave her behind.”
On Oct. 14, the girls team won the SJRAC Championship — its first in program history — and on Oct. 18, the girls dominated in the 3A District 6 meet. Five Pirates finished in the top 10 on their way to back-to-back district championships.
And on the morning of Friday, Nov. 3, their dominance continued as the Pirates held on to beat Ocala Vanguard by six points in the 3A Region 2 meet at the Flagler County Fairgrounds. Steffens was the top finisher for the Pirates, finishing in 10th place with a time of 20:43.86. Marti placed 11th with a time of 20:44.47, and senior Morgan Sharman finished 13th with a time of 20:55.58.
Matanzas coach Danny Weed said the goal entering the season was to win the conference championship, district championship and regional championship, something the team has never accomplished — until this year.
“We’ve had a lot of firsts this year,” said Weed, who’s been at the helm of the cross country program for the past four years. “This is probably the best all-around girls team I’ve coached.”
Steffens said the course proved to be challenging. The twists and turns and the soft ground made running difficult. None of the girls finished with a personal best.
Sharman proved to be the difference-maker, Weed said.
“She was a life-saver,” he said. “She’s had an up-and-down season this year. I told her she had to go with the top-three girls and stick as close as possible to them. And I think that was the biggest difference.”
As for the recent success, Weed said the seed was planted about two years ago.
“We had a lot of success moving up every year,” he said. “I’d lose a couple on the top, and then, we’d kind of just rebuild from the bottom-up and develop over the year just to be better than last year.”
With the win, the Pirates’ girls team moves on to compete in the State Finals on Nov. 11 at Apalachee Regional Park in Tallahassee.