By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
PUNTA GORDA — The last two weeks have been the ultimate roller-coaster ride for the Charlotte girls cross country team.
First, their top runner, Isabella Coogan, was shut down for the season because of a stress fracture.
Coogan wasn’t even able to finish the District 3A-11 meet, yet Charlotte still managed to finish second two weeks ago to advance onto regionals.
It’s at regionals where things got interesting.
When the final results came in, Charlotte finished seventh, one spot behind Robinson High School and one spot short of qualifying for the Class 3A state meet.
That brought the team to tears. But those tears would shortly dry into jubilation.
Robinson’s alternate runner accidentally tripped the timer near the finish line as she cheered on her teammate. That gave Robinson an extra runner, which pushed its point total below Charlotte.
But Charlotte coach Chris Robishaw knew something wasn’t right.
And he was right.
“We had run a great race, better than I thought time-wise and placement-wise — placement was what I was really stressing to them — so when I saw where they’d come in, I was really shocked,” Robishaw said. “It wasn’t that another team had beat us out for that last spot, but there were a few teams on our radar that we knew about that were going to beat us and it was going to come down to us and the team that was there just didn’t make sense to me.
“Once that was all figured out they dropped back to eighth and we moved into sixth, where we should have been.”
The Tarpons have now arrived back in Tallahassee for the state meet, which takes place Saturday morning. And they’ve made it despite not having their fastest runner in Coogan, who was also one of the fastest in the entire area.
Their accomplishments without the sophomore have opened the eyes of the rest of the team, which now realizes it can still put together a good race without her.
“I think it’s made us possibly even stronger because it’s showed us that we can’t rely on one person,” said Katie Kanagy, who posted Charlotte’s best time at regionals at 22 minutes, 00.20 seconds. “It’s more of a team effort. We have to work more as a team.”
Robishaw admits that at first, though, the rest of his girls were a bit shell-shocked that Coogan’s season was over. Coogan was of course disappointed, but so was the rest of the team, and that was something the Tarpons had to get over.
“It’s just a sad thing because that kid has worked tremendously hard and has had a great season for us,” Robishaw said. “But then once a week or so went by, they realized they’ve got to keep moving forward. She’s been there to support us and I think it has been somewhat motivational for them because people think ‘oh, your No. 1 runner is gone, season is done,’ but I think that also, while they care about her and respect her and they want her there with them running, they know it’s impossible right now so they’ve kind of used that as motivation — let’s see what we can do. We’re all together in this and let’s go for it so I think that really helped us this past Friday.”
With Coogan aboard, the team began the season ranked in the top-10 in Class 3A by flrunners.com after finishing 15th at states last year. That ranking has since dropped a tad but it hasn’t deterred the Tarpons.
Even though their goal at the state meet has changed a little — with Coogan they believed they could’ve finished in the top-8 — they have another goal in sight and that’s to finish better than their 15th-place finish a year ago.
It’s another opportunity for the Tarpons to prove themselves without Coogan, and propel themselves on a great run next season when she hits the track again.
They proved themselves last weekend. They’re ready to do so again this weekend.
“These kids have a lot of confidence,” Robishaw said. “They’ve been running well and getting stronger all season long and we knew that we had a very good opportunity at regionals.”
The same can be said this weekend at states.
ALSO IN TALLAHASSEE
Lemon Bay’s girls also will run at the Class 2A state meet Saturday morning. Kelsi Ogilvie, who followed up a district title with a region championship last week, leads the Manta Rays, who finished third as a team at the Region 2A-3 meet in Lakeland.
North Port’s Louis Dietrich is the lone male runner from the area participating in the state meet. Dietrich finished 11th at the Region 4A-2 meet but his team missed qualifying by only eight points, finishing seventh at regionals.