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Success kicking in for Warriors' Cooke

Originally just a conditioning exercise for swimming, track is no longer an afterthought.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 9, 2003

LECANTO -- Taylor Cooke joined the Seven Rivers Christian track and field team last year to become better-conditioned for swimming.

"My kick needed some work," Cooke said.

Times change.

After shocking the area and qualifying for the Class A state meet in three events in 2002, Cooke, now an eighth-grader, no longer thinks of track as a secondary sport.

"I used to not be able to go without swimming," Cooke said. "I needed to swim. Now, it's kind of like that with track, too."

For good reason.

The 5-foot-81/2 Cooke is one of the state's most promising distance runners.

"There's no question she has a legitimate shot at winning a state title in the 3,200 (meters) this year," Warriors coach Scott Lyons said.

At state last year, Cooke was sixth in the 3,200 in 12 minutes, 9 seconds. She also placed 15th in the 1,600 (5:57) and was on the ninth-place 4X800 relay team.

Cooke had one of her top performances at the 31-team Capital City Classic in Tallahassee, clocking a season-best 12:08 in the 3,200.

"I was pretty surprised," Cooke said of her performance in 2002. "I had never run before. It was just awesome to think I could go that far in my first year."

Cooke continued to run during the offseason and swam, too. In the fall, she concentrated on swimming and competed in a youth league.

Now she has turned her attention back to the track.

"I'm better now," Cooke said. "I think my endurance is better. Now, I'm doing two miles a lot easier. The best times I ran last year I want to run easily this year."

Cooke runs with her father every other morning and often competes in weekend 5K events from here to Tampa.

"She's very coachable," Lyons said. "She has a great work ethic. Because of that, she wants to be the best at whatever she does.

"She's way beyond her years, athletically and intellectually. She steadily got better the whole year (in 2002), so I don't think she'll sneak up on anybody this season."

She might not have to.

In the 3,200, which Cooke considers her best event, she hopes break 12 minutes, which likely would allow her to make a push for a state title. Continued improvement in the 1,600 also could lead to a high finish at state.

"I'm more into track this year," Cooke said. "It's not just to get in shape for swimming any more. ... I'm probably a little better at track now."

-- Keith Niebuhr can be reached at 860-7337 or .

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