San Elizario not comfortable with role as “favorites”

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin. Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin. Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario. Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

San Eli Boys Pack
San Elizario has won four Class 4A state cross country championships in the past five years.

The San Elizario Eagles have never been comfortable wearing the “favorites” label.

Sure, the Cotton Valley school has won four Class 4A state cross country championships in the past five years and junior Edwin Gomez has won an individual gold and a silver.

But last year, going after its fifth straight UIL state championship, the Eagles fell 12 points short, finishing third behind Region 1 foes Decatur and Andrews.

“We were not the favorites at regionals, and we will not be the favorites at state,” said Cesar Morales, the coach at San Elizario. “Throughout the year we’ve been ranked fourth or fifth in the state from various organizations so there is going to be less pressure on us.”

The San Elizario Eagles retained the top spot at the Region 1 meet, winning with 64 points to advance to the state meet for the sixth year in a row.

Decatur was second with 68 points, Andrews was third with 92 and Canyon with 121 points.

“Not winning state last year actually helped us,” Morales said. “We are back to being humble, we have our feet back on the ground and we know we had to work even harder. It really brought the team closer.”

At regionals, San Elizario had three runners in the top 10 – Edwin Gomez (second, 14:53.50), Rene Arambula (ninth, 15:55.00) and Dilan Sanchez (tenth, 15:55.60) and five in the top 25 – Irvin Vazquez (19th, 16:19.40) and Alan Ceballos (24th, 16:26.70).

Sanchez-Vasquez
Junior Dilan Sanchez and sophomore Irvin Vazquez have been solid third and fourth runners for the Eagles.

“I told the team before the regional race that it didn’t matter if we won regions or not, the real deal is going to be at the state meet,” Morales said. “We know in 4A, the state champion usually comes out of Region 1. For the past three to four years Region 1 has been battling for first, second or third.”

Morales credits Gomez and Arambula’s maturity and leadership for the team’s success.

“In the past month, Edwin and Rene changed the culture of our team,” Morales said. “It was already good, but they made it so much better. They are working hard to help my fifth, sixth and seventh runners. We were good a month ago, but now we are lot better.”

Morales said there is a 25-second gap between the second and fourth runner with the number five runner closing in.

“We’ve been doing more pack running, team bonding, in a way,” Arambula said. “What me and Edwin are doing is staying a little bit closer with them and then we start to slowly speed up so they could get used to the pace. They stay with us and then push themselves as hard as we do.”

Arambula, a senior, said it would be great to win another state championship and finish in the top 10 individually.

Arambula
Senior Rene Arambula would like to end his high school cross country career with a top 10 finish and his third team state championship.

“It would be great for our school to add another state championship and start another streak,” he said.  “Every year is special, every team is special, but I really do enjoy training with these guys.”

Gomez said it is no fluke that San Elizario will contend for another state championship.

“Where we are now is because of the work we’ve put in over the summer,” he said. “We have all been working together to get better.”

He said he is doing his part in close the gap.

“When we have our 8-mile runs, I try to stay with the team the first few miles at a 7:15 pace,” he said. “We stay together until we get to the fourth mile and then we pick up the pace, but we try to stay together. Last year, I would go fast at the end in front of everyone. Now I try to stay with them and go back with whoever is in the back and try to pick them up so we can all be together.”

Gomez said he has drawn inspiration from Arambula.

“He is very mature in the way he approaches running,” he said. “Everything I do, he tries to make it better. I have more respect for him than anyone in school. He is one of the top 10 in his class, so he is smart. He tries harder more than one else I’ve seen. He tries to help everyone by telling them to keep pace and to stay focused and don’t think about getting tired.”

An individual medal is not the goal for Gomez this year.

“I really don’t care where I end up, what I do care about is us winning as a team,” he said. “We’re in a really good place right now. We have a chance to win, but everything has to fall into place.”

Twelve points separated San Elizario from another state championship. That’s a couple of runners running five seconds faster over a 3.1-mile course. That’s how close the Eagles came from keeping their state-championship streak alive.

“We know it’s going to be close,” Morales said. “The team that is more focused and mentally prepared is going to win. Any of us can take it, we just have to fight and be prepared for anything.”

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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