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Kotchman emerging as IRC prodigy


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 12, 2000

Chris Williams has been coaching cross country at Indian Rocks Christian for seven years. He has watched the likes of Northside Christian's three-time state champion Brianne Harrington and Keswick Christian's two-time state champion Christa Benton. He has wished that someday such a runner would arrive at IRC.

The time has come.

IRC seventh grader Melissa Kotchman, in her first year of distance running of any kind, already has displayed Benton-esque ability.

On Sept. 7 at Taylor Park in a 12-team meet, in the first three-mile race of her life, Kotchman finished fourth in 21:07. Just 23 days later, on Sept. 30 at the University of Florida, Kotchman ran a 19:39 5K, the rough equivalent of a 19:04 over three miles, which would be the second-best time in the county this year. She improved about three seconds a day over the month of September.

Two days after the UF race, Kotchman celebrated her 13th birthday.

Williams has his prodigy.

"I prayed all those years that I'd get the next one, and I think I got it," Williams said. "She's got the most raw talent of anyone I've ever seen."

Having success at distance running at such a young age does not always foretell high school state titles. A significant growth spurt over the next few years for the 5-foot-4 Kotchman could stunt her development as a distance runner and make her more suited for shorter races.

Which is okay with Williams; he's the IRC track coach, too.

Kotchman, as a sixth-grader last spring, came within one second of the school record in the 400 meters, clocking a 1:05. She also excelled at the 100 and 200.

Whether Kotchman ultimately will be better at track or cross country isn't important. Williams just wants to make sure he's nurturing her career as best is possible.

"She's doing all of this with just 20 to 25 miles of training a week," Williams said. "I've thought about (increasing the mileage), but she's so young I'll wait until she gets to high school. I don't want her to be burned out by her sophomore year."

Kotchman, who lives in Seminole, is surprised by her cross country success. She knew she was fast from P.E. class, but she didn't know she could run far.

"I was just doing (cross country) for track, to keep running," Kotchman said. "No, I didn't (expect to do so well)."

Her parents, Ron and Tracy, also have been caught off-guard.

"I believe the Lord has definitely blessed her. And us. And coach," Tracy Kotchman said.

Added Ron Kotchman: "We just try to keep her from jumping off the bunk bed to protect her from getting hurt."

Today at the Largo Invitational, Kotchman is hoping to break 19 minutes.

She's also looking forward to running with Benton again, a senior who is on track to win her third state title this year.

"After the race (at UF), she came up to me and said, "Nice race,"' Kotchman said of Benton. "I didn't even know she knew who I was."

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