CALUMET CITY | Anyone scanning a list of finishers at the South Suburban Conference Blue girls cross country meet wouldn't have seen a T.F. North runner listed.
That's not surprising, given the Meteors' lack of tradition in the sport. What came as a shock, though, was when Monica Munoz's name popped up among the leaders at last Saturday's Class 2A Illiana Christian Regional.
The freshman wound up ninth overall after completing the three-mile race in 22 minutes, 45 seconds, and she advanced to today's Nazareth Academy Sectional as an individual. Her sister Andrea, a junior, also moved on.
Did Monica Munoz emerge out of nowhere? Hardly. She was, in fact, contending for the lead at the SSC Blue event when disaster struck.
"She was in second (place) into that last about 400 meters, and she fell into a hole and twisted her ankle," North coach Omari Garrett said. "She didn't finish."
"I was crying (afterward), mainly because I was mad," Munoz said. "I was used to the pain, but I was mad that I was so close and didn't get it."
The injury was not the first one Munoz suffered to her left ankle. She originally hurt it last spring while playing soccer and "kept twisting it. It was getting twisted more every time I played soccer."
Despite her latest malady, Munoz was determined to not miss out on last weekend's regional.
"I knew I was going to run the next Saturday," she said. "Other times, I just let it heal, then (I would) run it off with a swollen ankle."
A bigger issue in Munoz's mind was attempting once again to conquer her year-long habit of needing to pause briefly during each race.
"I think every race, I have stopped for at least 10 seconds," she said. "I'm about a mile-and-a-half into it -- that's when I (usually) stop (running). I'm still kind of doing it, but I'm trying to work on it.
"That affects me a lot because several girls pass me or the girl that's in front of me gets further (ahead)."
Even though she has yet to completely iron out that glitch, Munoz's accomplishments to date have pleased her coach.
"At the beginning of the year, we could see her and her sisters (Andrea and Elizabeth, a senior) were strong runners, but we didn't expect it to be what it came out to -- to make it to sectionals," Garrett said. "It's a pleasant surprise to see her do so well this whole year.
"It's a hard sell for students to say, 'Run three miles and get excited about it,' but I think Monica can be a shining example that a freshman can come in right away and do exceedingly well in this sport."
Munoz said she's proud of what she's done thus far, particularly since it also reflects positively upon both her school and the cross country program.
"Everybody has low expectations for T.F. North because we don't have many girls," Munoz said. "I want to prove everybody wrong and show that T.F. North is not how everybody expects us to be."