Four consecutive state titles is not the norm.
Then again, nothing ordinary really happens at Estero when it comes to winning.
The Wildcats had to work around a flat tire on their bus on the way to the state meet, but their wheels were working fine during Saturday’s FHSAA state cross country finals at Apalachee Regional Park.
Estero senior Araceli Leon and sophomore Daley Cline crossed in fifth and sixth place, respectively, leading the team to yet another Class 3A state championship.
Fort Myers senior Emily Edwards, meanwhile, won the 3A race after coming in fifth last year.
“I don’t know how I’m ever going to get out of (coaching) because I just love the feeling of seeing kids smile and be successful,” Estero coach Jeff Sommer said. “It’s not just about the winning. It’s seeing kids run their best times. The winning is just icing on the cake.”
For Leon, it was the wrap-up to a high school season where she became the focal point on her new team. No Katy Gladis Solis, no Kacy Smith, no problem. She crossed in 18:32 and ran with the lead pack the entire way, helping Estero to a 13 point victory over Sarasota.
“It was really nice to be a part of team,” Leon said.
“Normally I would go to state all by myself. … This team pushes me. They’re really good runners.”
Edwards was able to end her final season with a signature win. At the two-mile mark she looked to be laboring, but as was the case at pre-state, she found extra motivation on the final mile to separate, winning in 18:09 to beat Gulf Coast’s Caroline Barlow by six seconds.
“Always that two-mile mark is when they start to pull away and I knew it would happen this race,” Edwards said. “The goal was just to hang on as long as I could. It mentally went through my head, ‘You can’t let this go now. Now is not the time to do that.'”
In the boys 3A race, Fort Myers senior Tyler Bennett (15:23) finished runner-up to Tallahassee Leon junior Sukhi Khosla (15:08). It was a near carbon copy of October’s pre-state race where Bennett went out hard in the first mile only to have Khosla break away in the third.
“I wanted to stick with the strategy and see how it went,” Bennett said. “I didn’t feel as well as pre-state. (Khosla) went by so fast and (Niceville’s) Thomas Howell was right there as well. I went with him and Sukhi was already like 20 meters ahead. I was like ‘Dang, he went by so quick.’ … I’m pleased. It was a good race. I can be runner-up again, I guess.”
Estero’s boys finished 10th, while Evangelical Christian’s Sarah Candiano finished seventh in the 1A girls race and teammate Jillian Richter crossed in 22nd.
ECS freshman Jonas Elliott was 50th on the boys’ side.
And in 2A, the LaBelle boys finished 13th and the girls 22nd. Gateway Charter’s Alyx Gonzalez was 65th in 17:10.