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During Kevin Barry’s first two seasons as a Marco Island Academy cross country runner, the Manta Rays have been knocking on the door to the state meet in Tallahassee.

Consider that door knocked down, as a fourth-place finish at last week’s regional meet punched Marco’s first ticket to a state competition in any sport. In the past few years, the Manta Rays have sent individuals like Lisa Cottage-Ramnick (swimming), Olivia Watt (cross country) and Susie Linn (track and field) to states but never a team.

“They made an announcement at school (Monday morning),” Barry said. “Everyone was congratulating us throughout the day. It was really nice. This means a lot to us. Every team in our school has been working hard to become the first to make it to state. From the beginning of the year, we really thought we could do it.”

The Manta Rays won the Class 1A-District 6 title for the second time in three years. After a second-place finish at the district meet last year, Marco missed qualifying for state by one spot. Barry missed all but one meet last year, so his healthy return plus another year of experience helped put the Manta Rays over the hump.

“Missing last season and not being able to help my teammates was tough,” Barry said. “We trained hard in the summer. Everyone was consistent in our workouts. We put in a lot of miles before the season even started. We were ready.”

That consistency led to an outstanding grouping at the district meet, with Barry finishing eighth and teammates Johnathan Watt and Camden Jones rounding out the top ten.

Tony Castillo finished 18th and Damien Tschida 21st for the Manta Rays. At the regional meet, Barry (15th), Jones (17th) and Watt (19th) each notched top-20 finishes for Marco Island.

Marco Island isn’t the only team competing for a state championship Saturday. The Naples boys and girls – fresh off top-two finishes at regionals – will be in the Class 3A meet. The Immokalee boys finished sixth at the Class 3A-Region 3 meet to advance. In Class 1A, the St. John Neumann and First Baptist Academy girls will both compete. Individually, Palmetto Ridge’s Sonia Lountchenko and Christian Cruz will run in the 3A meet, while FBA’s Austin Flynn and Community School’s Grace O’Malley will race in the 1A meet.

Top individuals on qualifying girls teams include the Naples duo of Morgan Vickaryous and Zoe D’Antonio (3A), and Katie Beam of First Baptist (1A). On the boys side, the Naples trio of Alex Rodriguez, Michael Poole and Brady Gibson is strong – as is the Immokalee duo of Christian Cruz and Bernardo Barnhart.

Barry said the Manta Rays’ team goal is a lofty but attainable one.

“We want a top ten finish at state,” he said. “It’s going to be tough but we like our chances.”

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