Eva Jess, Eastwood Boys seek NXN titles

What: Nike Cross Nationals (NXN).

Who: Eastwood boys – seniors Juan Olmos and Elias Perez, juniors Sergio Cuartas, Nathan Hernandez and Victor Parra and sophomores Victor Anchondo and Andres Gurrola and Franklin’s Eva Jess.

When: Boys race begins at 11 a.m. Saturday and the girl’s race begins at 12:35 p.m.

Where: Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon.

Watch it here: https://cdn.runnerspace.com/nxnlive.html

Eastwood received one of four at-large bids to compete at the Nike Cross Nationals on Saturday.

When the Eastwood Running Club toed the line to start the 2018 Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon, it was a decade of work and dedication and perseverance in the making.

At the time, it felt as if the journey was over – they finally made it to the national state.

“The dream was always to get there, and once we did, it almost felt the finish line was Nike South and not NXN,” Eastwood coach Mike McLain said. “This year it feels more like business. Yes, we are going to enjoy it, but it’s a little more about business this time.”

NXN is the pinnacle of high school cross country in the United States. The top two teams in eight regional championships and the top five placing individuals not on an automatically-placing team receive automatic bids to NXN.

The race is at 11 a.m. Saturday at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland.

Eastwood finished third (137 points) at Nike South but Nike Cross Nationals selection committee selected them as one of four at-large boy’s teams to compete in the 22-team field.

Southlake Carroll (85 points) and The Woodlands (126) received automatic bids for placing first and second.

Franklin junior Eva Jess automatically qualified by placing third at Nike South racing to a 17:54.34.

“This is going to be great experience,” Jess said. “I’m really excited to go. I’m going to get a lot of cool stuff and I get to race against the best in the nation.”

Jess, who finished second at the UIL State Cross Country Championship in Class 6A, is the first girl’s runner from El Paso to qualify for Nike Nationals.

“I’m happy just to make it there,” she said. “I know these are the best girls in the nation so I’m just really happy to make it. I’m going to do my best and see what happens.”

Last week Jess finished 13th out of 195 runners at the Foot Locker South Regional in North Carolina and missed qualifying for the Foot Locker nationals by three spots. She did run a personal best of 17:49 in that meet.

“This was my first year running the NXN regionals so it’s awesome making it to nationals on my first try,” she said. “I never really thought about NXN. I was always focused on state.”

Franklin junior Eva Jess automatically qualified by placing third at Nike South racing to a 17:54.34. She is the first female from El Paso to race at NXN.

The girl’s championship race is at 12:35 p.m.

The Eastwood boys – seniors Juan Olmos and Elias Perez, juniors Sergio Cuartas, Nathan Hernandez and Victor Parra and sophomores Victor Anchondo and Andres Gurrola – are making its second consecutive trip to NXN.

“We just want to do better than last year,” Perez said. “We could have done better, so we want to go up there and show something, especially since we’re going up there as an at-large team, we want to show that it was worth it.”

Eastwood – which defended its Class 5A state championship this year – finished 22nd in a field of 22 teams in its first national championship.

Perez said he is hoping last year’s experience will help them on Saturday.

“Because it is NXN, we’ll still be a little excited, a little starstruck because it’s only our second year,” he said. “But we know it’s a big race and we can’t let it get the best of us.”

He has seen the team progress since his freshman season when the team was fourth at Nike South. His sophomore year, Eastwood was third but did not receive an at-large bid.

In 2018, Eastwood became the first team from El Paso to win Nike South and compete at NXN.

“Last year we were just kind of there having a blast,” he said. “This year, we’re going to have fun but we definitely want to take it more serious and do better than last year and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”

The team had to wait a week before getting the call last Saturday.

Eastwood’s Elias Perez and his team are returning to NXN on Saturday hoping to improve on last year’s performance.

“The team ran well at South but we didn’t know if we would be top two,” Perez said. “Coach was saying it would be close. I told the guys that there was nothing more we could do, we left it all on the course. I had a lot of confidence a week after South that would get an at-large berth.”

McLain said the past two weeks of training have been normal.

“The experience we had last year means everything,” he said. “Last year, before NXN, it didn’t feel like just another week of practice. Practice last week was calm, it felt like regional or state week. We weren’t as uptight as we were last year. We took a more it’s-just-another-race approach. It was just another two weeks of practice for us. We just did what we’ve been doing to make us successful this year, so it did feel more at home for us.”

But this is not just another race.

“These kids will be treated like royalty for four days,” he said. “The atmosphere is so incredible up there. When you show up they give you all this amazing gear, their pictures are up all over the Nike campus, you are like a celebrity with glamour and glitz and Olympians coming up to talk to you and eating with you at every meal.”

The team now has NXN experience with five runners who ran the course last year. Four runners – Olmos, Perez, Cuartas and Hernandez – ran the championship race while Parra was an alternate and race the community race.  Anchondo and Gurrola will be making their NXN debut.

“If you want to keep doing well at NXN, you have to keep working to get back every year,” McLain said. “At first, everything is so new. You are looking around, experiencing things for the first time so it seems more like a vacation than a meet. We want to get to the point where running at NXN is as comfortable as preparing for Woodbridge, or state or Nike South. We’re not at that point yet, but we’re getting there.”