LAKEWOOD RANCH — There was a time not that long ago when Devin McDermott couldn’t stand the thought of spending her afternoons running mile after mile in the blazing Florida heat.
But what a difference three years can make.
Rather than spending her summer traveling or lounging at the pool all day, the Lakewood Ranch High School junior spent time running —more than 300 miles to be exact.
McDermott, who ran 200 miles before the start of her freshman year and 250 miles before her sophomore year, used the summer break to prepare for the cross country season.
And the work has paid off. Flrunners.com recently ranked the Lady Mustangs No. 1 in the state for Class 3A. Last weekend, the team took first at the North Port Invitational, with McDermott placing sixth out of 96 runners.
“Our main goal is to improve ourselves,” McDermott said.
McDermott began running cross country for Braden River Middle School when she was in eighth grade as a way to stay in shape for soccer season. At the time, the thought of running made McDermott cringe.
But rather than letting the heat get the best of her, McDermott trudged on and eventually learned to like the sport.
“At first, I would do everything I could to stay away from it, but I realized it would be good for soccer, so I learned to like it,” McDermott said. “I was completely new to it. It was a brand new experience, and I got this feeling of enjoyment from it and I just liked doing it.”
Although it wasn’t until her freshman year that McDermott, who also runs track and plays soccer for the Mustangs, fell in love with the sport. Initially, McDermott’s goal was just to make the varsity cross country team. She posted a decent time and landed a spot on the Lady Mustangs roster.
Over the next few meets, McDermott continually dropped time, eventually breaking the 20-minute mark.
“When I broke 20 (minutes), that was a big accomplishment for me,” McDermott said. “I was pretty blessed to have been able to run that time. It’s really hard to get down there, so I was surprised to be able to do that.”
McDermott went on to win the Lemon Bay Invitational and broke the school record twice, posting a career best time of 19:05.
Then in the Class 3A-District 5 meet, McDermott and the rest of the Lady Mustangs held off Northeast High in St. Petersburg by two points to capture the district title.
“My freshman year — that season — made me fall in love with the sport,” McDermott said. “The fact that I surprised myself with what I did. I never thought I would be able to pull it off because I never saw myself running competitively.
“We had high hopes of moving on to regionals, but we really wanted to win the district title,” she added. “We knew it was going to be close, and anyone we saw we knew we needed to pass them if we wanted to win.”
After a breakout campaign her freshman season, McDermott had high hopes for her sophomore season. But while the team completed its best season in school history with a second-place finish at the state finals, McDermott struggled to regain her form.
A nagging knee injury, resulting from her growth, a late start to her training and the addition of four talented freshmen forced McDermott to dig down and adjust to her new leadership role.
“Instead of being the young one with four upper classmen, there were two upperclassmen and all freshmen,” McDermott said. “I was definitely surprised by some of them. They really brought a lot of talent to team.
“My freshmen year, I didn’t have the driving competition that I had this past year,” she said. “They really pushed me to a new level. It was definitely different. It wasn’t the best year for me — it was an adjustment year.”
This season, McDermott hopes to continue dropping her time while helping her team capture a state title.
“Junior year is an important year, so I just want to get stronger, faster and stay injury free,” McDermott said. “This is also my third year, so hopefully, I can use the knowledge I’ve acquired to help the younger girls. It’s not easy, but I’ve been there before.”
Contact Jen Blanco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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