Marco cross country team leads fall to remember for Manta Rays

The Marco Island Academy boys cross country team won its second district championship in three seasons, capturing the Class 1A-District 6 meet Thursday.

Marco Island Academy is a small school, but it's becoming quite big on the local cross country landscape.

The Manta Rays won their second district championship in three years, claiming the Class 1A-District 6 title at Southwest Florida Christian Academy on Thursday. The Manta Ray boys own the only team titles in any sport for Marco Island Academy.

"This definitely helps build momentum for the athletic program moving forward," Marco Island athletic director Ryan Marie Roberts said. "For a tiny school like us to be able to put a championship caliber team together is definitely an incredible accomplishment."

Now, the Manta Rays have their sights set on becoming the first team in school history to qualify for the state championships in any sport. Marco Island competes in the regional meet

"Last year, we missed it by one spot," Marco Island coach Bruce Kretschmer said. "It'll all be down to keeping everybody healthy. As long as we don't have any major injuries or illnesses, I love our chances. The boys are ready. These guys are fighters. Definitely the most competitive group I've ever coached."

The Manta Rays got a tremendous grouping at the district meet, with junior Kevin Barry leading the way by finishing eighth. Junior Johnathan Witt was right behind him in ninth, and senior Camden Jones finished 10th. Rounding out the Manta Rays' top five were sophomore Tony Castillo (18th) and senior Damien Tschida (21st).

"We figured Southwest Florida Christian would be our top competition and when I saw their top two kids came in second and third overall, I was a little worried," Kretschmer said. "But our third, fourth and fifth kids really came through for us, and that's what allowed us to win."

The cross country team hasn’t been the only Marco squad to experience success this fall. The Manta Rays volleyball team qualified for the regional playoffs, a first in the history of that program. They also captured a second consecutive Paradise Coast Athletic Conference championship and established a school record for wins in a season after going 20-5 – the first winning season in school history. Former Marco player Alyssa Stolinas took over as coach last year, and the Manta Rays have been a program on the rise since.

“Alyssa has done a wonderful job with our program,” Roberts said. “Last year we played ECS and was 45 minutes, in and out, see ya. To see us play them within two or three points in two of the sets, it just shows you how far the program has come.”

Marco Island is also sending four individuals and two relay teams to the upcoming regional meet. Lauren Faremouth (100 fly, 100 back), Jenna Jackson (100 free), Abby Lewandowski (50 free, 100 breast) and Suzie Linn (50 free) are all trying to qualify for the state meet. The 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams are also competing at regionals.