All dynasties must come to an end.
The Estero High girls cross country team had its run, winning state championships the past three seasons.
With its top two runners from those three title teams gone due to graduation — Kacy Smith (Mississippi) and Katy G. Solis (Jacksonville University) — it would be easy to discount a fourth consecutive crown for the Wildcats.
That’s just what the Wildcats would like teams across Florida to do.
“We like the thought that Estero’s done,” Estero coach Jeff Sommer said. “We like that thought because that’s motivation for us. We won’t be outworked. If we can stay healthy we’ll be very competitive.
“I told them, ‘What’s in the past is in the past, don’t bring up the three-peat because that’s in the history. We’re moving forward. This is a fresh year and so far we’ve done nothing’.”
Estero did something on Saturday, winning its 3D Invitational at Estero Community Park over 19 others teams to open the cross country season.
The Wildcats did it with a mixture of returning runners and new faces.
Seniors Bethany Jenkins and Katie Slater have been part of the past three championships, and although not frontrunners such as Solis and Smith, they’ve been a solid second pack for the Wildcats over the years. In last season’s Class 3A state final, Slater and Jenkins were the third and fourth runners across the line for Estero in 12th and 13th place, respectively.
In the 2011 Class 3A championship meet, Jenkins placed 11th as Estero’s No. 2 runner, just ahead of Solis, while Slater was the team’s fifth runner at No. 30 and in 2010, Jenkins was 18th and Slater 19th overall at the Class 2A state meet to help their team win its first crown.
“We have to focus and push harder than we have before,” Jenkins said. “Our goal is to get a big pack of all the girls to run together and push each other.”
Jenkins took fifth overall and Slater 10th at the 3D Invitational as the Wildcats placed four in the top 10.
Sophomore Daley Cline, who placed fifth at the 3D meet, was Estero’s fifth runner last season and took 25th at state as a freshman. She’s been training this summer with the goal of joining the Wildcats’ lead pack.
“I wouldn’t be so sure of us not being as good this year,” Cline said. “We’ll just see every meet, we’re just focusing on every meet, but I think we’re still in the game.”
Estero should be bolstered by the addition of senior Araceli Leon. Leon ran for South Fort Myers High her first two seasons, moved to Michigan for her junior year but is back in Florida. Leon, a First-Team The News-Press All-Area runner who placed 14th at the Class 3A state meet as a sophomore, had a strong Wildcats debut by finishing second on Saturday, nine seconds behind Fort Myers’ Emily Edwards.
“I expect more of myself this year. I want to be constant in the 18s and set a new (personal record),” said Leon, who ran a PR of 18:41 last season with Ionia High School. “I expect to run in the pack this year.”
Estero will keep working this Saturday in the 35th annual Optimist Invitational, hosted by Fort Myers High School at Veterans Park in Lehigh Acres. It will be the second of eight straight weekends of big, challenging meets for the Wildcats.
“We have to get it on from the start now,” Sommer said. “We’ve always run the best competition. To be honest, we have eight weeks of the best meets in the state of Florida. We go to Titusville, we go to Florida, we go to FSU. We run against the best teams in all the classes. … It’s neat to run the best of the best, and I think that prepares us for the state series.”
It’s worked the last three years.