State Championship Preview: Eastwood Defying Expectations

Monday: Tornillo girls.

Tuesday: San Elizario boys.

Today: 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.

Eastwood is looking to improve on its Region 1-6A runner-up position at the UIL Cross Country Championship.

After finishing second to Southlake Carroll in the Region 1-6A championship 10 days ago – a position where the Eastwood Troopers ended the 2020 season at the UIL State Championship – coach Mike McLain said his team was “overperforming expectations.”

Kind of sounds strange for team heading to its eighth consecutive trip to state (its ninth in 10 years), but it is true.

For five of the seven runners, it’s their first year on varsity.

“Did I expect them to go out and challenge nationally ranked teams like they’ve been doing this year after losing almost our entire team, – no I didn’t,” McLain said. “These guys definitely rank as one of the top three most-surprising teams that I’ve had.”

The team – seniors Andres Gurrola, Isaac Mendoza, Victor Anchondo, Devon Paez, juniors Joaquin Chavez and Anthony Casillas and sophomore Jacob Beckett – have done well in its two major meets this season, finishing fifth out of 30 teams in the “sweepstakes” division of the 40th annual Woodbridge Cross Country Classic in Woodbridge, Calif. and second out 27 teams in the “sweepstakes” division at the Desert Twilight, the Nike Pre-Southwest Regional meet, in Queen Creek, Ariz.

“They are not supposed to be doing what they’re doing and they don’t care,” McLain said. “We’re not the big school, we are not the affluent school, we’re not the kids everybody was talking about when they were in middle school or freshman. They’ve learned that they can accomplish more together than by themselves. They understand they are stronger together than they are apart.”

Eastwood has competed against top national teams such Newbury Park (Calif.) the No. 1 high school team in the country, U.S. No. 12 Niwot High, the defending Colorado state champion and Southlake (twice), the defending Class 6A state champion.

“We know what is expected of us and we work hard to meet those expectations,” said Mendoza. “People expect us to go to state every year, we’re expected to be one of the top teams in the nation. We just want to uphold the Eastwood tradition.”

Eastwood seniors Andres Gurrola (left) and Isaac Mendoza (right), are the Troopers top runners.

Mendoza and Gurrola are the two returning runners from last year’s silver medal team.

Eastwood is looking to medal in its fifth consecutive state meet.

The team earned a Class 6A silver in 2020, won back-to-back Class 5A state championships in 2018 and 2019 and earned a bronze medal in 2017 in Class 6A – the Troopers first team cross country medal.

“For some people, it’s in their DNA to run their best at big races,” McLain said. “For a lot of our guys this is their first year on varsity and they’re seniors but they’ve watched Eastwood teams before them and they know that it can be done.”

Setting the team up for success has been in Eastwood’s DNA for years.

“Being in big races has definitely helped,” McLain said. “We have a strong belief in our workouts and that leads to a big advantage over other teams. The kids know that and if they do Eastwood’s workout, they can compete against some really big, really good schools.”

Although there are two other races on the Troopers schedule – the NXN South Regional Championship in November and the Garmin RunningLane Cross Country Championship in December – for now, the biggest race is the next one, the Class 6A UIL State Cross Country Championship at 11:10 a.m. on Saturday.

“Based on where they started four years ago, this group of boys should not be competing with the teams that they are competing with – yet, they are are,” McLain said. “They know our program and what works and what it can do for them. It’s a belief that’s already inside of them.”

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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