Girls Region 1 Preview: Advancing to state has been a tall task for El Paso teams

What: Region 1 Cross Country Championship.

When: Monday, Nov. 9, Times (MST):  3A Girls, 10 a.m. 3A Boys, 10:30 a.m.;  Class 5A Girls, 1 p.m.; Class 5A Boys, 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10:  Class 4A Girls, 10 a.m.; Class 4A boys, 10:30 a.m.; Class 6A Girls, 1 p.m.; Class 6A Boys, 1:30 p.m.

Where: Mae Simmons Park, MLK Blvd. and 24th Street in Lubbock.

At Stake: Top three teams and top 10 individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the UIL Cross Country State Championship, Monday, Nov. 23 (3A, 5A) and Tuesday, Nov. 24 (4A and 6A)  at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

Who advanced?

The following teams and runners have advanced:

Class 6A: Franklin and Montwood. Also, Lauren Walls-Portillo and Adalia Olmos, Eastwood and Kyra Walker, Coronado.

Class 5A: Jefferson, Bel Air, Canutillo, El Paso High. Also, Angie Marrufo-Lujan, Parkland,   Pamela Ramirez, Burges; Annette Guzman, Burges; Morayma Montes, Austin; Elizabeth Hernandez, Austin; Andrea Villagomez, Horizon and Mia Rivera, Hanks.

Class 4A: Clint and San Elizario. Also, Kayhla Talavera, Mt. View; Madelaine Estrada, Mt. View; Anel Aranda, Riverside; Marcela Hernandez, Riverside; Athena Escobar, Fabens.

Class 3A: Tornillo.

Hundreds of runners from across Region 1 will converge on Lubbock on Monday and Tuesday for regionals.

Regionals has not been friendly to girl’s teams from El Paso.

In the past few years only teams from Franklin and Eastwood have advanced to state.

And because of the pandemic, only the top three teams and top 10 individuals not on a qualifying team will advance to the state championship at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

Last fall, only Franklin’s girls advanced to state as a team in Class 6A and Eastwood accomplished that feat in 2018 in Class 5A.

Here is what’s in store for this year’s regional girl’s races:

Franklin and Montwood will race for an opportunity to advance to state as well as three individual runners from District 1-6A.

Class 6A

Franklin is looking to improve on its fourth place, state-qualifying performance of last year.

The Cougars ran 1-34-37-39 and 43 and eked out the last spot to state on the strength of its sixth runner – Amanda Sotelo – who finished ahead of the sixth runner from Lewisville Marcus to break the tie for fourth place.

Franklin senior Eva Jess won the individual title in 16:56.80.

“Advancing to regionals as a team is a special experience,” she said. “We all get to have a great time and support each other, it’s just a great experience.”

Jess said she hopes the team can advance to its second straight state championship meet.

“We are working so hard,” she said. “We believe that we can do it. We all have to run great races and we can do it. We can show everyone in the region how we run in El Paso. We’re ready, we just have to stay strong and keep up the training. Hopefully, we get to go. We never know when it will be our last meet so we always take the opportunity.”

Montwood, the District 2-5A runner up, is also looking to advance as a team.

Last year, senior Karyme Garcia advanced to state individually after finishing 15th (18:16.20) at regionals.

Also advancing are Eastwood juniors Lauren Walls-Portillo and Adalia Olmos and Coronado sophomore Kyra Walker.

Walls-Portillo was tenth at last year’s Class 5A regional, completing the course in 18:26.60, and advanced to state. Walker advanced to state after placing 22nd in 18:33.80.

Austin’s Morayma Montes and Elizabeth Hernandez will race in the Class 5A Region 1 Championship at 1 p.m. Monday.

Class 5A

It will be a tall task for an El Paso team to emerge from Class 5A so the focus should be on the individual times.

It’s not say Jefferson, Bel Air, Canutillo or El Paso High will not give it their all, it’s just that when you compare the depth of the teams with others in Region 1 such as Grapevine, Canyon Randall and Colleyville Heritage.

Jefferson junior Crystal Peterson is seeking her third trip to state after finishing seventh (18:17.70) at regionals last year.

“We really want to make it as a team,” said Peterson, who had the top finish for an El Paso runner in 5A at last year’s regionals. “It would mean a lot to go as a team and to get that regional experience.”

She said a number of Class 5A runners have the potential to advance to state.

“I really want to push myself to be able to get to state again and finish in the top 25,” she said.

Jefferson senior Melody Tsutsumi also qualified for state last year – finishing 23rd at regionals (19:07.60).

“I just squeezed in there,” she said.

Parkland senior Angie Marrufo-Lujan said she hopes to improve on her 19:57.30 (53rd place) time from last year.

“It has always been my dream to go to state for cross country,” Marrufo-Lujan said. “Every year, regionals kicks me in my butt, but I’m going to plan it out smarter, I’m going to be better prepared. Going to state would be a dream come true, especially my senior year. Fingers crossed that it happens.”

Other individual runners looking to advance are Pamela Ramirez and Annette Guzman from Burges, Morayma Montes and Elizabeth Hernandez from Austin, Andrea Villagomez from Horizon and Mia Rivera from Hanks.

Despite what happens at regionals, Bel Air coach Jerry Schaffer is proud of his girl’s efforts.

Bel Air’s Abigail Murillo finished third at the District 2-5A race in 20:43.9.

“The girls came out in the summer and worked hard,” Schaffer said. “The two seniors (Sara Armendariz and Rosemary Torres) have been together for four years. Abby (Abigail Murillo) came up a year behind them and they just love each other and they play off each other.”

It is believed to be Bel Air’s first district championship since 1982 and its first trip to regionals, as a team, since the 1997 or 1998.

Class 4A

Class 4A teams have not had much success at regionals.

San Elizario was 10th and Clint was 17th at last year’s regional. Both schools will represent the district at this year’s regionals.

District 1-4A champion senior Kayhla Talavera was fourth last year, completing the 2-mile course in 12:05.50 and advanced to state.

“I’m excited to run regionals again,” she said. “I think I can make it to state, but I’m going to say that I’m going to make it for sure. I’m going to shoot for the top 10, but if not, it’s OK, it’s been a good season, I got to run when I didn’t think we were going to have a season.”

Other runners looking to advance are Mt. View’s Madelaine Estrada, Anel Aranda and Marcela Hernandez from Riverside and Athena Escobar from Fabens.

Burges junior Annette Guzman finished 5th in the District 1-5A Championship.

Class 3A

Sophomore Kylene Elias was the first ever female runner from Tornillo to win the Region 1 Championship, racing the two-mile course in 11:57.60.

If you recall, she raced the majority of the race with only one shoe.

“I didn’t feel anything, not even the rocks, because it was so cold,” she said. “I felt my sock rip but it didn’t really rip, it was just so cold.”

She defended her District 4-3A crown last week and is looking to do the same at regionals.

“It was a hard race,” she said. “Hannah Spears (from Holliday) right behind me and she could have beaten me in the kick. It was a photo finish.”

Both girls ran an 11:57.60.

Elias went on to finish third at the State Championship.

“My team has trained hard and we’ve been doing pretty well,” she said. “I keep on motivating them so we can go to state this year as a team. I’m eager to go to regionals and hopefully to state.”

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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