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Top runners will be back for more

Indian Rocks Christian eighth-grader Melissa Kotchman has the potential to win four state titles.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 20, 2001

The list of the county's girls runners of the year since 1993 reads like a private school honor roll: Northside Christian's Brianne Harrington earned the honors from 1993-96, schoolmate Erin Geisa took the 1997 award and Keswick Christian's Christa Benton was named the best from 1998-00.

An impressive string for the smaller schools. And one that might have no end in sight.

This year, it's Indian Rocks Christian's turn thanks to eighth-grader Melissa Kotchman. "Northside Christian and Keswick, there's always been a good runner in the county from those schools," Indian Rocks coach Kris Williams said.

"We talked about that, about how after one leaves then someone comes in after her. I told Melissa, 'You might be that one."'

With four years remaining, Kotchman could eclipse all the aforementioned runners. She could earn five runner of the year titles, one more than Harrington. She could win four state championships, one more than Benton and Harrington. This year, she got a head start on those goals. Kotchman led her team to the state meet where she finished third and the Eagles 10th, posted the county's fastest time (17 minutes, 49 seconds in winning a district title), and dominated the local competition (including a second-place finish at the USF/Leto Invitational).

Ranked No. 3 all season by behind two seniors, Kotchman established herself as the runner to beat statewide next season in Class A.

"That's what everybody tells me," Kotchman said. "But I try not to think about it. Somebody could beat me."

It won't be easy. After quitting cross country as a sixth-grader ("I didn't think I could do it. It seemed so boring."), Kotchman returned the next year and immediately showed glimpses of being the next great private school runner.

"She ran sprints in sixth grade and was pretty fast," Williams said.

"The 100, 200, 400 ... she placed in most of those races (against high-schoolers). That was her mind-set. But she didn't have the true sprinting form, it was more of a distance form.

"In seventh grade, I kind of held her back. I would tell her to run with this (teammate), and then with that one ... and then halfway through the season she was faster than everybody on the team."

When she won the regional title last year, Kotchman knew this was the sport for her.

"Last year at regionals I had my best race and I liked it then," Kotchman said. "All the other races I was so nervous and it didn't seem fun. But that was my breakthrough race."

This season, Kotchman won conference, district and regional championships, and led the Eagles to the team titles.

Williams sees a bright future for his young runner.

"She could be a lot better; we kept her mileage down to 25 miles, which is relatively low," Williams said.

"I've had decent runners before, but she is physically solid and all muscle. And she's strong.

"That kind of leads me to think she's just going to get faster."

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