From grade school to high school, XC offers a pathway to college for San Elizario runners

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.

The Eagles will race in its seventh consecutive Class 4A state meet at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24.

Let’s make one thing clear – there’s absolutely nothing in the water in San Elizario.

There are no secret workouts nor are there any quick fixes.

In the quiet Cotton Valley community just East of El Paso, cross country is embedded in every young athlete’s head. Cross country is more than a sport, it’s a way of life.

“Somehow, we’ve created a culture,” said Cesar Morales, San Elizario coach. “It begins at the elementary school level and carries on to middle school and finally to the high school level. We have a lot of students who have earned scholarships to run in college and that desire starts at the elementary level.”

The Eagles will race in its seventh consecutive Class 4A state meet at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24.

The previous six times, they have returned home with a medal around their necks – state champions in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, third in 2018 and second in 2019.

This year’s edition includes seniors Edwin Gomez and Dilan Sanchez, juniors Irvin Vazquez and Alan Ceballos, sophomores Christopher Moreno and Matthew Maese and freshman Angel Maese, freshman.

Advancing to state is simply a byproduct of what takes place before they get to San Elizario High School.

“Being on the cross country team is goal for many of these kids,” Morales said. “It’s their opportunity to be exposed to things many of them could only imagine. Some of the kids in our   community never get to leave the county.”

Morales said the things that many people take for granted are only pipe dreams to many young people living in the San Elizario community.

“You have no idea how much they look forward to going to Lubbock for regionals,” he said. “The kids take photos; they show their friends. Everyone wants to go to Subway; you don’t know what Subway means to these kids. Many of these kids have never been to a hotel. When we were in Lubbock, it was crazy to them to see a pool inside a hotel.”

Morales said there is no secret to what he is doing in San Elizario.

“The kids do all the work,” he said. “I don’t like to take credit for any of this. The connection the coaches have with the kids and the relationship we have built with them is the key.”

When you are as successful as San Elizario has been for almost a decade, coaches from across the state continue to reach out to Morales seeking advance on their own training plans.

“I tell each one of them that it’s not workouts, it’s the relationships you build with the kids,” he said. “The kids have to first believe and trust you. The only way these workouts work is if the kids buy into you 100 percent. If you have a solid relationship with the kids and they believe in your workouts, they are going to do them.”

He said if a runner believes and respects a coach, they will do anything to make that coach happy.

“My kids come out in the morning when its 40 degrees outside or when its 105 degrees in the afternoon and they’ll put in the work,” he said.

Dilan Sanchez hopes to improve on his 12th place finish at last year’s state championship.

He points to Dilan Sanchez as an example.

“Dilan never played any type of sport growing up, Morales said. “He tried cross country his 8th grade year and he tried soccer but he didn’t like them. He was one of these kids who kept to himself in his own little bubble.”

When Sanchez was a freshman, he was in Morales’ algebra class.

“At a 4A school you are always recruiting,” Morales said. “I asked him to show up to practice and he shook his head – no, no, no. All year I tried to get him to go out and he finally did at the end of track season and he seemed to like it.”

He must have.

He showed up on the first day of cross country practice his sophomore year and he has never looked back.

“He would run low mileage; he couldn’t finish a 5K without stopping,” Morales said. “But since he showed up that day, he has continued to work hard every day, never missing a practice, unless he was injured. After our morning practices, he would call me and ask me what else he could do. We would run 8 miles in the morning and he wanted to run another 5 in the afternoon.”

Sanchez, who finished 12th at last year’s state championship in 15:51.22, said he feels free when he runs.

Seniors Edwin Gomez and Dilan Sanchez lead the way for the San Elizario Eagles.

“When I run, I’m happy,” the soft-spoken Sanchez said. “When I’m on the course racing, that’s when I’m most happy. Running has taught me many things. It taught me that I could be a good leader and that I can motivate others by setting an example. Through running, I want others to feel like anything is possible because that’s how I feel.”

Sanchez is fielding scholarship offers but is not yet committed. His teammate, Edwin Gomez, signed with Texas last week. Gomez was last year’s Class 4A runner-up finishing in 15:06.05.

It’s scholarship opportunities like this that Morales is talking about.

“They now understand that they not only can compete against rich people, but they can beat them and get something out of it,” he said. “They see a chance, they see a possibility of being successful against anyone in the state, regardless of your race, regardless of your economic status, it doesn’t matter, they know they can compete against anyone.”

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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