Eastwood takes state run in stride

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.

The Troopers defended its Region 1-5A title and now look for its second straight Class 5A State championship.

You won’t hear Eastwood cross country coach Mike McLain talk about defending the Trooper’s Class 5A UIL State Championship this weekend.

“It’s just another meet, another meet we’re going to run in, that’s it,” he said. “A lot of people will say winning isn’t their motivator, and usually the people who say that, winning is the only motivator they have.”

Don’t get him wrong, he would like nothing more than to bring another state championship to El Paso, but winning gold isn’t the end game.

“I would be lying to say that we aren’t trying to win, but more importantly than winning is the experience the kids will have,” he said. “That’s why we take so many kids on out-of-town trips. A lot them will not make our varsity, but does that mean they don’t deserve to see some of these big out-of-town meets and to experience their teammates and carry that with them the rest of their lives?”

Eastwood is no stranger to the state meet, making seven appearances in the past eight years.

The Troopers won their first state crown last year, winning the Class 5A race with 62 points, 25 better than Austin Johnson. In 2017, Eastwood won bronze in Class 6A. Eastwood finished sixth in 2016 (6A), 14th in 2015 (6A), fifth in 2014 (6A), fourth in 2012 (5A) and sixth in 2011 (5A).

“We are always trying to win, and we’ve done a lot of it, so it shows,” he said. “But the number one factor for us is giving these kids an experience that, 20 to 30 years from now, they will say, ‘Man, that was worth doing.’”

McLain said he and his staff enjoy taking athletes such as senior Juan Olmos and Elias Perez and instilling a belief in them that they can do whatever they put their minds to.

“Getting kids that were not superstars to train like and to believe they are superstars, and to get the results that they do, to me, that is the magic,” he said.

He points to Perez as a prime example. Perez  ran a 14.25.90 at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, the first El Paso runner to break in the Top 10 at Woodbridge and ran a sub-15 Regional (14:57.80), only the second Eastwood athlete to go under 15 minutes at regionals (current Furman University runner Daniel Bernal was the first).

Eastwood senior Juan Olmos and junior Nathan Hernandez hope to defend the Troopers Class 5A UIL state team championship on Saturday in Round Rock.

“He was was no big deal in middle school,” McLain said with a smile. “He wasn’t even top 10 in our district meet. He was 16. He comes in and works his butt off and now people look at him as a stud. I don’t think happens at a lot of other places.”

Perez, who finished 21st at last year’s state meet in 15:47.13, said he wasn’t serious about running until he arrived at Eastwood.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “Being able to run, especially with this team, is the best decision I’ve ever made.”

No doubt, 2018 was a special year for Eastwood, winning the state title and Nike South which qualified them for Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon.

The Troopers were the first team from El Paso, and the first all-Hispanic team, to advance to the national championship.

Senior Elias Perez was fourth in Region 1-5A racing to a time of 14:57.80. He is the second Eastwood athlete to go under 15 minutes at regionals.

This year’s team – seniors Perez and Olmos, juniors Nathan Hernandez, Sergio Cuartes, Victor Parra and sophomores Victor Anchondo and Andres Gurrola – are focused on 2019.

“We really don’t worry too much about having to win state again or having to top what we did last year, that’s not our focus,” Perez said. “We just have to work hard, prepare properly and run as a team and hopefully it will happen again.”

Olmos, who finished 12th in 15:33.69 at last year’s state meet, said the team trusts the process and the blueprint that has been laid out for them.

“We’ve been getting better every year,” he said. “From freshman year to junior year to this year, we’ve been getting better and improving. We really don’t focus on what we did last year or how we have to do that again or else the season isn’t successful. Last year was great, but that was last year and it’s over. Our focus is the next race and giving it our best.”

But, another state championship would be nice.

“The perfect outcome is winning, always,” he said. “Everyone wants to win, no question. That’s why we go there, that’s why we race. We show up and show out, to be on top. We want to run a good solid race, run together and maybe win it. We don’t want to see any other outcome so we’re going to run really hard to have that happen. But even if we don’t win, it will still be a good race because we ran hard for each other.”

The Troopers casual approach to defending its title is a reflection of its coach.

“Whatever happens at state will happen,” McLain said. “Our goal is to get what we can out of the guys who show up and who is willing to put in the work. It’s what we do, we invest in every kid because we believe in them.”