Eastwood’s seniors form tight bond of brotherhood in the age of COVID-19

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.

Eastwood’s Victor Parra, Andres Gurrola and Victor Anchondo have provided much needed pack points for the Troopers this season.

Eastwood’s four seniors – Sergio Leon Cuartas, Aaron Perez, Nathan Hernandez and Victor Parra – epitomize what the Trooper’s cross country program is all about.

Their story is about four young men who believed in what they were doing, who sacrificed their own personal glory to work together as a team for one common goal.

And that common goal will surprise you.

It would be logical to assume winning a third straight UIL State Cross Country Championship would be goal No. 1.

But it’s not.

“The goal has changed since my freshman year,” Cuartes said. “The goal back then was to give my best effort in all my races and try to put my name out there. As you progress in the program, your mentality changes, your efforts are more for your team than yourself and wanting to do well for your brothers.”

Eastwood, the two-time defending Class 5A state champion, will race in the Class 6A division at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The Troopers will be making its eighth state appearance in the past nine years.

“When we practice, we understand that we are preparing to be better as a team,” Cuartes said. “Running at Eastwood is not complicated at all, its just having fun and listening to your coach. There really isn’t that much to it. There is no reason to be obsessing over anything, just have fun and enjoy the journey.”

Cuartas was 17th at last year’s state meet finishing third on the team in 15:28.21.

Eastwood senior Sergio Leon Cuartas was 17th at last year’s state meet finishing third on the team in 15:28.21.

A trio of juniors – Isaac Mendoza, Nick Parra and Andres Gurrola – make up the rest of the seven.

The last time Eastwood raced in the Class 6A state meet was in 2017 when the team finished third.

“We are the underdogs,” said Eastwood coach Mike McLain. “I say it all the time and I’ll never stop saying it. These kids are doing things every year that they shouldn’t be doing.”

He is prouder of this year’s team because of the many challenges it had to face.

“If you were looking for an excuse not to work, this would be the year,” he said. “When the kids would run, they would have a bunch of ‘Karens’ yelling at them – ‘you’re killing people’ or ‘what are you guys doing?’ That’s a lot of stress the kids had to put up with. The kids had to work through all these amazing circumstances, how can I not be happy to be around them?”

He said the senior leadership helped the team along.

“In order to survive in our program, you have to care about your team,” McLain said. “These four seniors have overachieved. Remember, we began the year not even ranked. We weren’t even a bubble team. They committed themselves to each other, just like the teams did before them and the teams before them and the team before them.”

Like Cuartes, Hernandez has been running varsity for three years.

“My role is to be an example for the younger kids and to show them that even though times are tough right now, we still need to do what needs to get done even through this pandemic,” he said.

Eastwood senior Nathan Hernandez looks to improve on his state time of 15:31.10 with hopes a winning third state team championship.

Hernandez, who placed 20th at state last year (15:31.10) said it’s been a special four years.

“I’m going to miss those guys a lot,” he said. “It has always been the four of us since freshman year. For a lot of the meets our freshman year it would be Sergio, Victor and I going one-two-three in every race. As the years progressed, all four of us managed to make varsity together. We formed a brother pack together.”

Being able to run in an uncertain time due to the pandemic has brought the team closer.

“Our final season together means a lot more than when we started,” Hernandez said. “We grew up together. They motivate me to come to practice. I know they’ve always been there for me. It’s a good feeling knowing they are going to be there no matter what.”

Cuartes agrees.

“I couldn’t have chosen a better group of guys,” he said. “It’s been amazing to have developed a friendship with Victor, Nathan and Aaron. Having them around has made this experience that much better.”

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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