Girls Region 1 Preview: Franklin looks for third straight state appearance, Eastwood’s Lauren Walls-Portillo seeks her fourth visit

What: Region 1 Cross Country Championship.

When: Monday, Oct. 25 at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock. Girl’s start times (Mountain Time): 4A, 8 a.m.; 5A, 9 a.m.; 6A, 10 a.m.; 3A, 1 p.m. Boys start times: 4A, 8:30 a.m.; 5A, 9:30 a.m.; 6A 10:30 a.m. 3A, 1:30 p.m.

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

At Stake: Top four teams and top 10 individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the UIL Cross Country State Championship, Saturday Nov. 6 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

Who advanced?

The following girls teams and runners have advanced:

Class 6A: Franklin, Eastwood, Coronado. Also, Kassandra Jimenez, Montwood; Alexa Rangel, Montwood; Lexee Salas, Americas and Natalia Martinez, Pebble Hills.

Class 5A: Jefferson, Del Valle,Burges, Canutillo, El Paso High and Hanks. Also, Elizabeth Hernandez, Austin; Sarah Lopez Touchy, Ysleta; Jaylee Levario, Bel Air; Abigail Murillo, Bel Air.

Class 4A: San Elizario, Riverside and Young Women’s Leadership Academy. Also, Madelaine Estrada, Mt. View and Ileana Maldonado, Clint.

Class 3A: Tornillo.

Only a select few will advance to the state championship in two weeks. The next step is regionals in Lubbock on Monday.

So here we are again – Mae Simmons Park, Lubbock, Texas – the roadblock for many El Paso girl’s cross country teams and individual runners.

It is a hilly, rolling park that might as well be filled with quicksand and landmines.

It is a place that traditionally has not been kind to El Paso runners.

The Region 1 Cross Country Championship begins on Monday, the last stop before the UIL Cross Country State Championship at 8 a.m. Nov. 6 at Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock.

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

Eastwood senior Lauren Walls is seeking her fourth consecutive trip to state.

Class 6A

Franklin is looking for its third straight trip to state.

The Cougars finished third in the Region 1-6A race last year scoring 71 points and advanced to state.

“It’s been a really exciting year,” said senior Jenna Saunders, who had a top 20 performance (16th, 19:53.50) at last year’s regional. “We’re relieved to have won district the past four years, but we want to do really well at regionals and qualify for state and do the best we can. We train for it so we know we can do it.”

Franklin coach Anthony Laspada said this year’s team has had to work a little harder because of the absence of two top five regional runners – Eva Jess (fourth, 18:39.00) and Ally Little (fifth, 18:48.70) – who are now racing at UT-Austin.

“We trained really hard all season so we know we can do it,” he said. “The girls have been there for each other and they will continue to be there for each other. We’re going to train and get ready and do our best and go out swinging. We have to stay humble and be thankful for what we have and continue to fight.”

Eastwood and Coronado will also be representing District 1-6A along with Montwood seniors Kassandra Jimenez and Alexa Rangel, freshman Lexee Salas from Americas and junior Natalia Martinez from Pebble Hills.  

Eastwood senior Lauren Walls-Portillo – who finished sixth (19:00.10) at regionals last year – and Montwood’s Jimenez (19th in 19:58.60 at last year’s regional), both qualified for state last year.

“We’re training very well right now and we are getting stronger, but we’re not done yet,” Walls-Portillo said. “We’re going to continue getting stronger and get ready for that regional course.”

Walls-Portillo, who has been to three UIL State Cross Country meets, hopes a fourth one is in the cards.

“Regionals is a course that you really have to be smart with,” she said. “With my knowledge of running on it for the past three years, I finally know how to run it and how to pace myself so I’m heading into regionals feeling pretty good. It would be my biggest accomplishments to win a state medal.”

Eastwood, which did not qualify a team to last year’s regionals, is looking forward to this opportunity.

“The front part of our girl’s team ran well at district, but quite frankly, the back part got a little scared and didn’t run as well as they could have, but I’m confident they’ll fix it at regionals,” Eastwood coach Mike McLain said.

Walls-Portillo won her first district title in 19:22.89 and freshman Adelynn Rodriguez finished second in 19:38.28.

“Adelynn and Lauren looked great,” McLain said. “I don’t think there have been two girls, that fast, on one El Paso team since I’ve been around and I’ve been around since 1983. What those two girls are doing together is special.”

Austin senior Elizabeth Hernandez hopes her second trip to the Region 1-5A championship results in a trip to the state meet.

Class 5A

Jefferson, Del Valle, Burges, Canutillo, El Paso High and Hanks are the teams representing Districts 1-5A and 2-5A in Lubbock.

Four seniors – Austin’s Elizabeth Hernandez, Ysleta’s Sarah Lopez Touchy and Jaylee Levario and Abigail Murillo from Bel Air – qualified as individuals.

Two senior runners – Pamela Ramirez from Burges and Jefferson’s Monique Correa – were the lone state qualifiers from El Paso’s Class 5A last year.

Ramirez, was 23rd in 21:22.10 and Correa was 27th in 21:32.40 at last year’s regional meet.

With a full year of training under her belt, Ramirez, who spent most of her time last year playing soccer, has made giant strides, winning the District 1-5A championship on Saturday in 20:47.09.

“Soccer has always been my first love and the sport that I focused on the most,” she said. “I never thought I could love another sport but I ended loving cross country just as much.”

She said last year’s regional experience has made her mentally prepared for Monday.

“I’m going to be mentally tougher at regionals, and I’ll be ready to compete for a spot to state,” she said. “This time, I want to qualify in the top 5 or top 10.”

Hanks senior and District 2-5A champion Mia Rivera, qualified to last year’s regionals but was injured during the race and did not finish.

“I’m going to train super hard for regionals again,” she said. “I know that I can’t get in my head so I’m going to try focus more than I did last year.”

San Elizario senior Samatha Ramirez looks to make the most of her first regional appearance.

Class 4A

San Elizario, Riverside and Young Women’s Leadership Academy will represent District 1-4A along with Mt. View junior Madelaine Estrada and Clint sophomore Ileana Maldonado.

The district champion, San Elizario senior Samantha Ramirez, is looking forward to regionals.

“I’m going to keep working and pushing myself,” she said. “Nothing is going to be given to me. As long as work hard, I think I can get pretty far.”

Last year, San Elizario finished in 14th place and Clint was 15th.

Class 3A

For the first time school history, the Tornillo girls are headed to regionals as a district champion.

Behind two-time defending individual champion, junior Kylene Elias – the Coyotes dominated, the district, scoring 19 points.

Elias was fourth at last year’s regional, completing the two-mile course in 13:01.40, and advanced to state.

The team finished ninth in the region.

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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