The El Paso delegation of distance runners who descended upon Old Settlers Park in Round Rock for the UIL Cross Country State Championship last week certainly left an impression on the rest of Texas.
Three of the six teams returned home with state team medals and eight athletes earned All State honors by virtue of finishing in the top 10 in their respective races.
The Eastwood Troopers won back-to-back Class 5A state championships, San Elizario was second in Class 4A and Tornillo was third in Class 3A.
Five of the top 10 runners out of Class 5A were from El Paso including Hanks seniors Michael Abyeta (second, 14:34.61) and Rodger Rivera (third, 14:55.64) Eastwood seniors Juan Olmos (fifth, 15:01.41) and Elias Perez (sixth, 15:03.46) and Eastlake sophomore Israel David was seventh in 15:05.63. San Elizario junior Edwin Gomez was second in the Class 4A race finishing in 15:06.05 and Tornillo senior Ofir Ortega was eighth in Class 3A in 16:03.31.
Only two girls finished in the top 10 – Franklin junior Eva Jess was second in Class 6A in 17:12.18 and Tornillo freshman Kylene Elias was third in the Class 3A two-mile race in 11:37.79.
“It felt harder this year,” Eastwood coach Mike McLain said. “People take these things for granted. Doing something like this is difficult. I told the guys they needed to enjoy it because moments like this don’t come around too often.”
Eastwood won its second state championship by 59 points, scoring 51 points. Grapevine was second with 110, Boerne Champion was third with 128 points and Hanks was fourth with 151 points.
“This one had a very different feeling,” McLain said. “It was just as satisfying but in a very different way because of everything they had to overcome to get here. We lost two big guns from last year who were our leaders. We had some health issues with one of our top runners that would have decimated a lot of other teams. That runner, and the rest of the team, pulled together and made the most out of it.”
After Olmos and Perez, Eastwood’s next five were junior Sergio Cuartas (17th, 15:28.21), junior Nathan Hernandez (20th, 15:31.10) junior Victor Parra (21st, 15:31.12) sophomore Victor Anchondo (107th, 16:48.43) and sophomore Andres Gurrola (139th, 17:26.53).
“It’s a great feeling going back to back,” Olmos said. “It was a good feeling to be able to share this with Elias, it was a perfect way to end our senior year.”
Perez and Olmos took over the leadership role for the Troopers this year.
“We had a lot of younger guys on this year’s team and we weren’t really doing too good in the beginning,” he said. “But we knew what we were capable of and it was awesome for all of us to come together at that moment.”
Perez said there were many twists and turns this season.
“At the beginning of the season, we were doing good but when we raced at Woodbridge, that’s when people started to get hurt. Desert Twilight was kind of bad, too. Runners who where usually up there with us were getting hurt and we weren’t at our full strength.”
But Perez knew this team would come around.
“We knew what we were capable of, but we had to stick with it, stick with the process,” he said. “We were lost at some point and getting in our own heads and we weren’t performing like we usually do. We talked to each other, we knew what we needed to do but we couldn’t stress over it. We had to keep working and get past it.”
For Hanks, after Abyeta’s second place finish and Rivera’s third place finish, Knights runners were sophomore Gael Alvarado (74th, 16:15.24), senior Omar Munoz (76th, 16:16.93) freshman Alejandro Tarin (85th, 16:23.43), junior Christian Jaquez, (144th, 17:44.91) and junior Michael Antuna (152nd, 19:18.47).
Chapin senior Angel Contreras was 23rd in 15:33.98.
Eastwood sophomore Lauren Walls-Portillo was the top girl from Class 5A finishing 46th in 19:01.29. A pair of Jefferson runners – junior Melody Tsuitsumi was 81st in 19:25.02 and sophomore Crystal Peterson was 97th in 19:42.03.
San Elizario found itself on the podium for sixth straight time, finishing state runner-up to Decatur by three points.
“It’s a bitter sweet feeling,” San Elizario coach Cesar Morales said. “I’m not taking anything away from Decatur, they’re a great team and they improved a lot but we could have done a lot better. We had a young team and we made a couple of mistakes, so it cost us a little bit.”
After four straight state championships, the Eagles won bronze last year and now add a silver to its ever expanding trophy case.
“We could have done better but I’m happy because of the team’s improvement over the entire season,” he said. “We improved our average by 30 seconds from the last time we were state champions and we improved by 34 seconds average time from last year.”
But to finish three points shy of five state championships in six years, it stings just a little bit.
“I just wanted a little better result because the kids worked so hard this season,” Morales said. “We wanted a state championship, we were expecting one but looking at the year in its entirety, we improved a lot. I don’t know if there are any other teams in El Paso that have been on the podium six years in a row. But we have to keep working and taking it one year at a time.”
After Gomez’s second place finish, senior Rene Arambula was 11th in 15:47.50, junior Dilan Sanchez was 12th in 15:51.22, sophomore Irvin Vazquez was 56th (16:38.27), junior Anthony Gonzalez was 79th (16:53.56), senior Seth Rodriguez was 92nd (17:03.52) and sophomore Alan Ceballos was 103rd (17:15.51).
Mt. View junior Joshua Gonzalez was 78th in 16:52.55.
“We’ll have to reflect and evaluate what we did as a team and come back and get hungry again,” Morales said. “We’ll have lot of young kids on the JV team fighting for a spot on varsity.”
Mt. View senior Nicole Estrada had the best finish among El Paso’s 4A girls finishing the two-mile race in 37th place in 12:28.27. Mt. View junior Kayhla Talavera was 65th (12:47.25) and San Elizario junior Karina Gallegos was 109th in 13:20.09.
For Tornillo coach Jesse Garcia, there was added meaning to this year’s state championship.
His father, Eleazar Garcia, past away on Dec. 31, 2018.
“When I went back after the Christmas break, my kids found out,” he said. “I told them we were going back to the state championship and run it for my dad. Every race was for my dad. At the state championship, we all knew that my dad was watching from up there cheering them on. It was a proud moment.”
The Coyotes finished third with with 121 points. Eustace won state with 85 points followed by Crane with 112.
It was a bronze kind of day for Tornillo at this year’s state meet.
“Every kid we took up there came back with a third place medal,” Garcia said. “We put on a show. We were leading the race after the first mile. Eustace, the state champs from last year, had lost one from that group so they had a solid squad and Crane, which finished second last year, had everyone coming back so I knew it was going to be a hard battle.”
Garcia said he was happy with the way the team improved every week.
“I am real appreciative of the overall performance of the kids,” he said. “Every week we got stronger and Saturday was no different. Our best race of the season was Saturday.”
Ortega led the team with an All-State eighth place performance followed by junior Bryan Garcia (33rd, 16:43.75), freshman Angel Torres (37th, 16:49.39), sophomore Bryan Guzman (42nd, 16:56.74), junior Michael Maney (53rd, 17:06.42) and freshman Eric Fuentes (149th, 22:10.57).
“Finishing in the top 10 was my goal,” Ortega said. “I was little bit disappointed because I wanted to finish in the top three but I’m still glad I finished on the podium for the first time individually. Team wise, the guys stepped up big and because of them, we finished in the top three. I did my part, but they ran their heart out and did something really special.”
Ortega said he enjoyed his four years at the Cotton Valley school.
“Running for Tornillo has been a wonderful experience,” he said. “I will cherish all the memories I have from my freshman year to my senior year. The team-bonding, the family-bonding, was very special. I have much love for my coaches, it’s something I’ll never forget. They were like my second dads. It’s been a special journey.”
Freshman Kylene Elias is just starting hers at Tornillo. She won the school’s first girl’s state medal, finishing third by just one second to state runner up Finley Hunting from San Antonio Cole. Peyton Muntz from Whitesboro won the gold in 11:28.06.
“It’s a good feeling but I think I could have done better,” Elias said. “Next year I’ll try to get the gold.”
Does Elias now has the running bug?
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I like the adrenaline that runs through my body when I run and I like how a lot of people from Tornillo support me.”
Garcia said he is proud of Elias’ first season of cross country.
“Kylene ran hard again and got a PR,” he said. “She got boxed-in in the first 400 meters of the race and that affected her a little bit. She is used to leading the race but she was never able to get a lead. At the end of the race, she was about to throw up. She fell into fifth place because of that but she managed to come back and almost caught second place.”
Elias said she didn’t know what happened at the end of the race.
“I was giving it my all but I guess my stomach didn’t like the breakfast from the morning,” she said. “I saw the girl in third place slowing down, I guess she thought I couldn’t catch up to her, but I was running as fast I could and I got her.”
The Americas boys improved from last year’s 15th place finish to placing sixth while the Franklin girls finished 15th in their first state appearance.
Americas placed two runners – senior Hector Sanchez (17th, 15:15.36) and sophomore Jared Laverty (25th, 15:21.72) – in the top 25. Other runners for the Trailblazers include senior Jacob Ye (51st, 15:42.69), senior Seth Andrade (80th, 15:56.97), sophomore Aaron Saenz (83rd, 15:57.78), junior Gage Garcia (98th, 16:09.52) and sophomore Carmelo Corral, (108th, 16:20.46).
Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez was the first El Pasoan in Class 6A to cross the finish line in 15:11.31 good for 14th place. Franklin senior Fernie Morales was 18th in 15:16.52.
For the 6A girl’s, after Eva Jess’s second place finish, Americas senior Mariana Guzman was 20th in 18:21.05; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia was 99th in 19:28.96 and Coronado freshman Kyra Walker was 118th.
Franklin’s runners were freshman Alyssa Laspada (123rd, 20:08.78), freshman Sofia Camacho (128th, 20:14.16), sophomore Jordan Torres (131st, 20:24.77), freshman Michele Paillard (133rd, 20:25.40), freshman Amanda Sotelo (140th, 20:51.78 and sophomore Jenna Saunders (144th, 21:13.61).