LAKEWODO RANCH — From the moment she first arrived at Lakewood Ranch High School, Italian foreign exchange student Alice Assenza knew she wanted to join the Lady Mustangs track team.
So with the track season still several months away, the 17-year-old began working with a personal trainer to get in shape for the upcoming season. But no amount of training could have prepared her for the moment she first walked out onto the track.
“It’s been really different,” said Assenza, who runs for a club team in Italy. “The track is different, and the team is a lot bigger (than in Italy), but it makes it more fun to come to practice.”
Assenza, who competes in the long jump, the 300-meter hurdles and the 400-meter relay, is one of a number of talented fresh faces on Lakewood’s girls track team this season. The new additions to the team, including freshmen distance runners Kristen Zarrella, Natalie Novak, Ashley Platt and Oliva Ortiz, have helped propel the Lady Mustangs to their best season in school history.
“I think it has a lot to do with the distance girls,” coach Kent Ringquist said. “They work year round in other sports and that helps them stay conditioned. We also have some other girls who specialize in certain types of events — Alice Assenza in the 300 hurdles and long jump and Leah Wierichs in the 100 hurdles — so we’re getting points from a lot of different areas.”
Lakewood has won five meets so far this season, including its 11th consecutive Manatee County Championship April 9 and last week’s Wally Keller Invitational, where the Lady Mustangs posted five first-place finishes to hold off Fort Myers by three points.
“I think it’s all the raw talent we have this year,” sophomore distance runner Devin McDermott said. “The freshmen and all of the other new people have made a big difference. We all work hard and have the same mindset — to get as many people to states as we can. That’s what we’re focusing on and we’re just going to push ourselves to the limit.”
Before the start of every meet, the girls break up into their individual events and focus on preparing for their upcoming race or field event. They warm up together — doing everything from crab walks and backbends to basic stretching drills. They pray together in both English and Italian. They joke around together. And most importantly, they are constantly watching and cheering on one another.
“We all push each other at practice and during our events too,” Assenza said. “We always cheer for each other and we have a lot of team spirit.”
Now, the Lady Mustangs have turned their attention to today’s district championship. Last season, Lakewood tied with Charlotte for first place in the district, but this season, the Lady Mustangs want the title all to themselves.
“Our goal is a district championship,” McDermott said. “For the distance girls, we’re focusing on getting the best place and time that we can. It means a lot. It’s a goal we’ve been working toward, and we just want to keep our winning streak up and move as many people on to regionals as we can.”
Junior thrower Kelsey Bronkema agreed.
“We all put in a lot of hard work, and there’s an overall sense of school pride and loyalty,” she said. “Lakewood Ranch is probably one of the more competitive schools, so it’s a lot of fun. We push ourselves, but we also have fun.”
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
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