District 2-5A Preview: Eastwood boys and girls team favorites; Hanks’ Abeyta, Eastlake’s Chavez hope to repeat

District Previews

Monday – District 1-4A, District 3-3A

Tuesday – District 2-5A

Wednesday – District 1-5A

Thursday – District 1-6A

Make Plans:

What: District Cross Country Championship.

When: 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 12. Rolling schedule (girls first, then boys) – District 1-6A; District 1-4A; District 2-5A, District 1-5A.

Where: Chamizal National Memorial Park, 800 S San Marcial.

At Stake: Top three teams and the top 10 individuals make it to the Region 1 Cross Country Championship, Oct. 22 at Mae Simmons Park, MLK Blvd. and 24th Street in Lubbock.

EastwoodBoys2
The Eastwood Troopers won a bronze medal at the Class 6A state meet last year. On Friday, the quest for a state 5A medal begins with a District 2-5A Championship.

The Eastwood Troopers are back in familiar territory.

The Troopers are back in District 2-5A and both girls and boy’s teams are heavy favorites to win yet another district title.

For the Eastwood boys, the quest for a UIL Class 5A state title begins on Friday. Last fall, the Troopers won the Region of Doom in Class 6A and then placed third at the state meet.

This team could be even better.

“They could end up as one of the best team’s we’ve ever had if things go well,” Eastwood coach Mike McLain said. “We’ve had some really great teams here. The two teams that are on top of that list are the 2017 team and our 2014 team which is a close second. I think this year’s team can be right next to those two teams.”

The 2017 team had a team average of 15:18.83 while the 2014 team’s average was 15:24.00.

Sophomore Sergio Leon Cuartas and junior Juan Olmos are both sub-15 runners and senior Kaye Quinones is just 3.3 seconds over the 15-minute mark. Sophomore Nathan Hernandez and senior Eddie Gallegos are not far behind.

Sophomore Aaron Perez and junior Elias Perez are as solid as they come 6-7 guys.

Eastwood’s 1-5 splits have been consistently close all season. At the Desert Twilight Meet in Casa Grande, it was 22 seconds and at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Irvine, they had the second fastest 1-5 split of 36 seconds.

Eastwood is going for its eighth consecutive district title.

“Our goal has always been to compete against the best,” McLain said. “It doesn’t matter what division that it’s in. Locally, the best in the past couple of years has been Tornillo and San Eli. We always try to compete against them because they are consistently factors at the state meet every year.

“Out of town, we have gone to great extremes to compete against the best schools in the country,” he said. “We are not a rich school and a lot of times the schools we face out of town are rich schools who fly in their teams to California while we do the 12-hour drive. We were the top out-of-town finisher at Woodbridge, even after that long drive. Same thing when we got to Desert Twilight. We drove seven hours, got off the bus, raced and drove seven hours back.”

District 2-5A is going to be tough.

Michael-Roger
Hanks juniors Michael Abeyta and Rodger Rivera are the front runners for the Hanks Knights. The teammates could finish 1-2 at the District 2-5A meet.

Hanks, with its 1-2 punch of juniors Michael Abeyta and Rodger Rivera, should lead the Knights back to the Regional 5A Meet.

“It’s all about the team,” said Abeyta, the two-time defending individual champion. “We’ve really improved this year. I just want my team to get to regionals and I’m going to do everything I can to make that happen.”

Abeyta acknowledges that the task will be tough to unseat Eastwood.

“Eastwood is a really talented team,” he said. “All those guys work hard so it’s no surprise that they are one of the top teams in the state. But running against them will help my team. If we can hang with a team of that caliber, it will really boast our confidence headed into regionals and hopefully state.”

Abeyta relishes the possibility of a first and second place for Hanks runners.

“It would be really great,” he said. “Rodger has been working really hard; he has actually been training with me here and there so we‘ve been helping each other get better. We stay on top of each other and encourage each other. He has really been a great teammate. By the end of this season, he is going to be up on that podium at state, I really believe that he’ll finish in the top 10.”

Both ran well two weeks ago against the nation’s best at the Nike Desert Twilight Festival with Abeyta finishing fourth in the 5K race in 14:50.10 and Rivera ninth in 15:15.70.

The battle for the third and final spot to regionals will come down to Eastlake, Bel Air and Horizon.

District 2-5A boys at a glance:

2017 District Champion: Eastlake.

2017 Individual District Champion: Michael Abeyta, Hanks.

2017 Regional team qualifiers: Eastlake, Hanks, Horizon.

Projected order of finish:

1, Eastwood: Looking for its eight consecutive district championship.

2, Hanks: With its 1-2 punch of Abeyta and Rivera, never count out the Knights.

3, Eastlake: Freshman Israel David could lead the young Falcons to another regional meet.

4, Bel Air: The Highlanders are very capable of snagging the last spot.

5, Horizon: But so are the Scorpions.

6, Del Valle: The Conquistadores are the dark horse.

7, El Dorado: The Aztecs could be a few years out.

8, Riverside: Will always compete.

9, Parkland: The Matador runners seem to have a lot of fun at meets.

10, Ysleta: Team works hard.

11, Valle Verde: Not enough is known about VV.

Eastwoodgirls
The Eastwood and Eastlake girls will battle for the District 2-5A team championship on Friday.

The Eastwood girls are going for their 11th district title in 13 years.

“We have girls on the team that a lot of people probably have never heard of except for my freshman Lauren Wall,” McLain said. “Other than Lauren, we don’t have any club runners. There’s nobody that anybody in town was dying to get. These girls have just worked their tails off.  I have never seen the dedication that I’ve seen from them. This is the hardest working team I’ve had.”

But it’s not going to come easy.

The Eastlake Falcons loom large with Aeriel Garcia and Amaris Chavez, last year’s district champion.

“I want to come in at 18:30 which is I know is possible,” Garcia said. “I’ve been training on that course for the past week and I feel like I’ve gotten a little bit better. My goal is to ultimately win the race only because it will help my team. I know if Amaris and I come in first and second, that will put us in a good spot and then the rest of the girls will fall in after that.”

AreielGarica
Eastlake senior Aeriel Garcia comes into the District 2-5A meet with the city’s second best 3-mile time. She is the favorite to win the district crown.

The Falcons are one of the youngest teams. Other than Garcia, Chavez and junior Evelyn Alvarez, Eastlake will run four freshmen.

“We have some really good freshmen so we figured they would be on the varsity squad,” Garcia said. “They started really strong and as the season has gone on, they have gotten a lot better and even a lot stronger. Although they have been a little inconsistent, each one of them has proved that they have the ability to come in with good times to help us with a good team score.”

Eastwood is the odds-on favorite to win the team title with Eastlake a solid second leaving Hanks, Bel Air and Horizon battling for the final spot to Lubbock.

The Troopers are led by juniors Meadow Ortiz, Eileen McLain and freshman Walls, whose times rank among the top 10 in the city.

Eastlake’s 1-2 senior punch of Garica and Chavez should earn enough points for a team runner-up finish.

All five runners will also challenge for individual honors.

“We’re a pretty solid team, I have a lot of confidence in all of my girls that they’ll come in in pretty good times,” Garcia said. “It might a challenge for the freshman but I have  no doubt that all of them can finish in the top 20.”

Which leave us with Hanks, Bel Air and Horizon.

Horizon senior Kenia Enriquez and Destiny Beltran have been consistent all year while Hanks seniors Paulina Friare and Jaqueline Spencer hope to do enough to get them past Horizon.

DestinyBeltran2

The young Highlanders have the potential to advance as well if sophomores Rosemary Torres, Sara Armendariz and freshman Abagail Murillo come of age on Friday.

What could play a factor in Friday’s race is the looming remnants of Hurricane Sergio which may bring over an inch of rain to much of southern New Mexico and far west Texas Friday and Saturday morning.

“We need the rain,” McLain said. “Every time it sprinkles in El Paso we cancel the meet. When we travel to Dallas and Houston and state, if it’s not lightning, they don’t care how muddy the course is, they run. If it’s ugly and muddy out there, it would be good for us. We need to learn how to run in those conditions. The rest of the state doesn’t have the same climate as we do in El Paso and we have to travel to their part of the state to race after district so I hope it rains so it can give us some great experience.”

District 2-5A girls at a glance:

2017 District Champion: Horizon.

2017 Individual District Champion: Amaris Chavez, Eastlake.

2017 Regional team qualifiers: Horizon, Eastlake, Hanks.

Projected order of finish:

1, Eastwood: The Troopers should have enough to win another district title.

2, Eastlake: Falcons are racing four freshmen.

3, Hanks: Knights could be headed for second consecutive regional.

4, Bel Air: If Hanks falters, the Highlanders will be right there waiting to take the last spot.

5, Horizon:  Don’t count the Scorpions out.

6, Del Valle: Del Valle showed some life this season.

7, Parkland: Angeline Lujan hopes to qualify for regionals.

8, El Dorado: The Aztecs are a few years away.

9, Riverside: Rangers will put up a good fight.

10, Ysleta: The Indians will race hard.

11, Valle Verde: Always willing to compete.

Author: Victor R. Martinez

My love of running began with my son Deric. His passion and talent for distance running opened my eyes to a sport I never imaged I would embrace with such enthusiasm. As a journalist at the El Paso Times, I was the lead writer for cross country and track for several years and I was able to tell the stories of these amazing unsung athletes. Never a runner myself, I decided to change that when I turned 50 in 2016 when I trained for my first 5K. I've been running ever since and I love every minute of it - well - sort of.

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