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Kotchman's off days rare

The IRC runner's not satisfied, though most would take her feats in a split second.

By BOB PUTNAM, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 25, 2003

For most, finishing second in the 1,600 meters as an eighth-grader and third at the state cross country meet as a freshman is quite an accomplishment.

Not for Indian Rocks Christian's Melissa Kotchman.

"I had a horrible season," Kotchman said. "I didn't do anything at all. I never broke my personal record in track (5 minutes, 17 seconds) I set as a seventh-grader, and I ran a bad race at state in cross country."

The rest of the county would beg to differ.

Kotchman has dominated the area. But for all of the conference, district and region titles in her possession, there's one that is missing -- state.

This season, she could bring home her first crown. Kotchman is the top seed in the 1,600 and represents Pinellas' best hope of a state championship.

She is the county's only returning medalist. In fact, there are just two others back who placed in the top five, Lakewood's Nadia Covington and St.Petersburg's Ashlee Kidd, both fifth in the 400.

"I've been looking forward to track ever since cross country season ended," Kotchman said. "I'm determined to make up for those past performances and to have a better season."

Kotchman attributed her struggles to a stress fracture in her back.

The injury sustained during trackseason wasn't diagnosed until July, forcing her to rest for three weeks during the summer. The layoff robbed Kotchman of valuable training time and forced her do some catching up once she returned.

"Everything I did in the summer was basically lost," she said.

Finally healed, Kotchman started preparing for track almost as soon as cross country ended.

She treated the three-month gap between seasons like boot camp. Kotchman went through grueling practices, and she took just two weeks off.

"But that was because she had the flu," IRC coach Kris Williams said.

During that time, Kotchman competed in two races, finishing second in the Run for the Rec in Belleair and fifth in the 5K Gasparilla Distance Classic.

Entering the track season stronger, focused and injury-free, Kotchman has set some goals. She wants to break her 1,600 record by midseason and run under 12 minutes in the 3,200.

"She has not been satisfied because she wants to be No.1," Williams said. "That's a tough thing to do, but she worked real hard this winter toward achieving that goal."

Kotchman will need to push herself because of the competition, or lack thereof.

The two runners who finished ahead of her in the 1,600 last season graduated, and the two ahead of her in cross country are in other track classifications.

But Kotchman isn't ready to crown herself the state champ.

"There's work to be done," Kotchman said. "Anybody can come out of nowhere and beat you. I just have to be prepared."

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