Tornillo racing to state on “house money”

State Championship Previews

Today: Tornillo boys.

Thursday: San Elizario boys.

Friday: Eastwood boys.

Saturday: Franklin girls.

Sunday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Michael Mier; Americas junior Jared Laverty; Eastlake junior Israel David; Eastwood junior, Lauren Walls-Portillo and Montwood sophomore, Kassandra Jimenez. Class 5A – Burges junior, Pamela Ramirez; Jefferson junior, Monique Correa; El Paso High senior, Josep Ferret; Hanks sophomore, Alejandro Tarin; Chapin senior, Joaquin Ortega, Chapin. Class 4A – Riverside junior, Andrew Valdiviezo. Class 3A – Tornillo sophomore, Kylene Elias.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Monday, Nov. 23. All times (MDT): Class 3A girls, 10:45 a.m.; Class 3A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 5A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 5A boys, 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24: Class 4A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 6A boys, 2:15 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

Tornillo senior Bryan Garcia and sophomore Angel Torres will be counted on heavily as the Coyotes try to improve in its 2019 third place state finish.

The fall of uncertainty has been difficult for everyone during the 2020 pandemic.

None more than for the Tornillo cross country team which has been in “survive and advance” mode for most of the season.

With not a lot of athletes to work with, the road back to Round Rock has not been easy for Tornillo.

A month ago, on Oct. 21, the Coyotes were all but done with the cross country season as an athlete came down with symptoms of COVID.

The athlete informed Tornillo coach Jesse Garcia and began self-isolation. Because she had close contact with both teams, the entire squad could have potentially been exposed so the teams also quarantined and had to train on their own.

However, the athlete did not get tested until several days later, resetting the 14-day quarantine.

With district less than 14 days away, it appeared the season was lost – another victim of COVID-19.

Eventually, it come down to some wheeling and dealing by Tornillo officials with the District 4-3A coaches and principals to have the district championship moved back three days to Saturday.

But it was still not a certainty that the Coyotes would be on a bus to Presidio.

“We still had to wait for test results,” Garcia said. “We still had kids who had not been cleared to travel. We got the final go-ahead at 3:30 p.m. that Friday, the day before district. We meet at the bus at 4 in the morning and drove to Presidio.”

Tornillo finished second at district and third at the Region 1-3A championship.

“All I can say is God is good,” Garcia said. “There is no other way to describe how we overcame the obstacles we faced just to reach this point. I told the kids to pray, pray, pray because at the end, God has the final word. If God wants us to run at district, it’s going to happen, no matter what the world is telling us.”

The Coyotes – seniors Bryan Garcia and Michael Maney, junior Bryan Guzman, sophomores Angel Torres, Eric Fuentes and freshmen Daniel Romero and Gael Garcia – are the 11th Tornillo team to advance to state in the past 12 years.

Tornillo earned bronzed at last year’s state championship and finished second in 2016 and 2017 – its two best finishes.

The Coyotes are balanced with the Romero, Torres, Bryan Garcia, Maney and Guzman leading the way.

Tornillo senior Michael Maney is the team’s inspirational leader. He is a three-year varsity runner.

“We’re a young team,” said Maney, who has run on the varsity for three years. “As a senior, I have taken on a leadership role to be an example for them. I remind them that I was a freshman, too, ‘been there, done that,’ so I know their struggles.”

Maney has been the inspirational leader the past two seasons.

“My team is like my family,” he said. “It would break my heart to see the family dynamics not working together. My role is to keep the family together, keep the dynamics going good and to make sure everything with the team is going smoothly.”

Garcia calls Maney the heart and soul of the team.

“He is full of life and has a great personality,” Garcia said. “Michael is the glue to this team. He is also one of the most consistent runners we have. He is the type of kid who always has a really good finish at the of the season so I firmly believe he is going to have a great race at state.”

One of the surprises for Tornillo has been the progression of the freshman – Daniel Romero, who finished fourth at regionals and second at district.

“This is his first season of cross country,” Garcia said. “He didn’t even run cross country in middle school. The middle school coach, coach Vega, told me this kid ran a 5:45 mile, without any training, and I should recruit him.”

Because of the COVID summer, Garcia did not have the opportunity to contact Romero.

“In early August, right around registration time, my assistant (coach Adrian Guerrero) saw him and told him he should try cross country,” Garcia said. “First thing he said was, ‘you have to talk to my dad, sir.’ He is a very humble young man. We gave him basic workouts, but I don’t know how much of it he was doing.”

Garcia told Romero when and where the first race was going to be, and he showed up.

Romero finished that race at Skyline Park in 19:09.98, exactly 2 minutes and 33 seconds behind Chapin senior Joaquin Ortega’s 16:36.25.

“It was just like that movie ‘McFarland’ when the boys ran their first race and they looked all funny when they were running – that’s the way he looked,” Garcia said. “He ended up being our fifth guy and we asked him how felt and he told my assistant that he could have gone faster. So we told him ‘OK, on the next one, try a little harder.’ The next race he was our fourth guy and the next race he was our third guy and he just kept building more and more strength and confidence.”

Tornillo freshman Daniel Romero is in the mist of his first cross country season ever. September was the first time Romero has lined up to compete.

The Tornillo boys feel they are racing on house money.

“It’s been a tough season,” Maney said. “We’ve all had bouts of doubt with what would happen next, not knowing if we were going to make it through the season. I would tell the guys we had to stay focused, to stay motivated. We had to remained them that we were still in this, the season is not over and try to work as hard as they can.”

Regardless of what happens on Monday, Garcia is grateful just to have a season.

“The expectation is always been the same – do our best and leaving nothing on the table,” he said of state. “We were given a second chance and we have to take it and go with it. We weren’t supposed to make it out of district- we weren’t supposed to even run at district – yet, here we are. We’re going to go out and do our best and represent our town with a big heart and run like it’s our last race.”

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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