State Championship Preview: Tornillo girls just want to have fun!

Today: Tornillo girls.

Tuesday: San Elizario boys.

Wednesday: Eastwood boys.

Thursday:  Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Pebble Hills junior Omer Ibrahim; Coronado junior Luis Pastor; Americas senior Jared Laverty; Americas senior Carmelo Corral; Eastwood senior Lauren Walls-Portillo; Eastwood freshman Adelynn Rodriguez and Franklin junior Alyssa Laspada. Class 5A – Burges senior Pamela Ramirez; Jefferson senior Crystal Peterson; Hanks junior Alejandro Tarin; Hanks senior Gael Alvarado. Class 4A – Riverside seniors Andrew Valdiviezo and Jayden Bustillos. Class 3A – Tornillo sophomore Daniel Romero and junior Angel Torres.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Friday, Nov. 5. All times MDT: Class 3A girls, 9 a.m.; Class 3A boys, 9:30 a.m. Class 5A girls; 10:30 a.m., Class 5A boys, 11:10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 6. Class 4A girls, 9 a.m.; Class 4A boys, 9:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 10:30 a.m.; Class 6A boys, 11:10 a.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

For the first time in school history Tornillo’s girls advanced to the UIL State Cross Country Championship.

Tornillo High School is making its 12th state appearance in the past 13 years – its 10th in a row.

But for the first time in school history, it’s the girl’s team who is carrying the Cotton Valley torch to Round Rock.

“Six weeks ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Tornillo coach Jesse Garcia said. “Six weeks ago, we weren’t even in the mix. The possibility of us going to the state championship didn’t exist.”

But it is happening.

After winning its first District 3-4A Championship, the Coyotes finished two points ahead of Bushland at Regionals and advanced to the UIL State Cross Country Championship.

The team – seniors Olivia Garcia, Wendy Garcia and Abetsi Blanco, juniors Kylene Elias and Brianna Ibarra and sophomore Nataly Escajeda – will race at 9 a.m. Friday.

The turning point for the team was the return of All State runner Kylene Elias in late September.

Elias, who won the Region 1, Class 3A championship and earned a bronze medal at the state championship as a freshman, finished 14th at last year’s state meet.

With a promising final two seasons on the horizon, Elias decided running was not for her.

“I never gave up on her; I kept all her gear in her team backpack,” Garcia said. “I told her it was there when she was ready to come back – and she did.”

Halfway through the season Elias saw a spark in her teammates that she had never seen.

Then it happened.

“One day, out of the blue, she wanted to give it a shot and she showed up to practice,” Garcia said. “The team showed her some love and they started to have fun again. It wasn’t about just running it was about enjoying the moment that was in front of them.”

Elias took a few months to clear her head and figure things out.

“I really didn’t like running anymore,” she said. “There was just too much pressure to win. Coach called me and told me the girls were doing good. He asked me to come back and help the team get to state and I said yes.”

She trained for three days and went off to Denton to race in the Texas MileSplit Invitational where she finished fifth to the last.

“That was the worst race I had ever run in my life,” she said, laughing. “I was not conditioned at all.”

Tornillo junior Kylene Elias will racing in her third UIL State Cross Country Championship. She finished third her freshman year.

With the support of her team, Elias continued to train eventually winning her third district title and placing 10th at the Region 1-4A championship.

“It felt like I never left,” she said. “The girls have always been there for me. I thought about it a lot and I felt I needed to be there from them this year, so I came back.”

Having fun is what matters now and the team gets positive results, that’s just an added bonus.

“We run for fun now,” Elias said. “We used to put a lot of pressure on ourselves; we wanted to win so bad we put too much pressure on ourselves, and it wasn’t fun anymore.”

The Tornillo girls are doing something no one expected them to do – and they are doing it with smiles on their collective faces.

“I cried a little,” Elias said after learning that the team advanced to state. “Since my freshman year, this is what I wanted, I wanted to have the girls finally come with me.”

Garcia has seen the team progress week by week.

“At thebeginning of the year, we didn’t look like much but as the week’s progressed we would get a little bit stronger,” he said. “We won a meet towards the end of the season and that gave us a little bit of momentum.”

As the team prepares for state, Garcia – nor Elias- cannot believe this is happening.

“It’s a strange feeling,” he said. “We have some phenomenal talent in El Paso. Teams like Franklin and Eastwood, everybody does such a great job with their kids. For us to be the only girls team to qualify to state, to be the last girls team standing, it’s just amazing to me.

“God is good,” he continued. “He is still showing me that if there is a will, there’s a way. These kids from Tornillo are tough, when they want to be, they can compete with the best.”

MileSplit predicted a 12th place regional finish for Tornillo.

“We surprised ourselves,” she said. “With this group of girls and how hard they work, I knew we would eventually make it, it just took a little longer than I thought.”

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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