State Championship Preview: Five sets of teammates; 16 individuals chasing state medals

Monday: Tornillo girls.

Tuesday: San Elizario boys.

Wednesday: Eastwood boys.

Today: 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 and San Elizario senior Samantha Ramirez. 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.

Americas seniors Jared Laverty and Carmelo Corral and Pebble Hills junior Omer Ibrahim will compete in the Class 6A race on Saturday.

Five sets of teammates will be racing for a spot on the medal stand at the UIL State Cross Country Championships on Friday and Saturday.

They are: Americas seniors Jared Laverty and Carmelo Corral; Eastwood senior Lauren Walls-Portillo and freshman Adelynn Rodriguez; Hanks senior Gael Alvarado and junior Alejandro Tarin; Riverside seniors Andrew Valdiviezo and Jayden Bustillos; and Tornillo sophomore Daniel Romero and junior Angel Torres.

Also chasing state medals will be Pebble Hills junior Omer Ibrahim, Coronado junior Luis Pastor, Franklin junior Alyssa Laspada, Burges senior Pamela Ramirez and Jefferson senior Crystal Peterson and San Elizario senior Samantha Ramirez.

Laverty and Corral have been teammates since they were 8-years-old, running for the El Paso Flames.

“Once we both got to Americas, our goal has always been to qualify for state,” Laverty said.

The first two years, Laverty and Corral – who have been running varsity since their freshman year – advanced to state as part of the team.

Last year, Laverty advanced as an individual. He said having Corral train with him in the 10 days leading up to state has been beneficial.

“Sometimes when you’re having a bad day it’s always good to have someone in front to try to catch up to or on the good days, have someone pushing you from behind,” Laverty said. “Training has been going really smooth. We’ve been tapering down and getting ready for state.

Corral, who will be racing in his third state championship, said Saturday’s run is going to be bittersweet.

“Before the race it’s going to be all nerves, but when it’s done, as nerve wracking as it is, I’m probably going to do it all again,” Corral said. “It’s going to be fun, especially since I’m doing it with Jared who has been a friend of mine for such a long time.”

Corral considers himself blessed to be able to run in three state championships.

“I’m very appreciative to have been given the opportunities that I’ve been given,” he said. “A lot of runners would be happy just to be able to experience state one time and I’ve been blessed to be able to compete in three. This one I take the most pride in because the first two we qualified as a team, but this one I made as an individual; that has been my goal since my freshman year.”

Laverty and Corral will race in the Class 6A boys race at 11:10 a.m. Saturday.

Also racing in the Class 6A division will be Eastwood’s boys, Pebble Hills junior Omer Ibrahim, Coronado junior Luis Pastor.

“The season has had its up and downs,” Pastor said. “I had an airway disease that affected me for from the end of August to the middle September where I was wheezing all the time. I could barely walk much less run – it was really bad and I thought that was the end of my season.”

But Pastor – who finished fifth at the Region 1-6A Championship in 15:47.0 – persevered winning three meets and finishing in the top 3 in many of his races.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself this season, but mostly that I’m stubborn,” he said. “My coach would tell me to take it easy but I would sneak off with the boys and did the workout anyway. I also learned that I won’t let adversity keep me down, I’ll keep working through it until I get what I want.”

Ibrahim, who finished with bronze medal at regionals in 15:45.3, said he’s kept his training pretty much the same the past 10 days.

“At this point I’m trying to maintain strength so I don’t overwork my body,” he said.

After missing out on state the previous two years, he is more than ready for Saturday’s run.

“Of course, the best-case scenario is I win it all, but as I long as I compete to the best of my ability, give it my all, stay strong and stay with the lead pack, I’ll be happy with it,” he said.

The girls Class 6A race will begin at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday and will feature Franklin junior Alyssa Laspada and a pair of Eastwood runners – senior Lauren Walls-Portillo and freshman Adelynn Rodriguez.

Franklin coach Anthony Laspada said he is proud of the way Alyssa has taken on the leadership role for Franklin after the graduation of Eva Jess and Ally Little – both running at UT-Austin.

“Those are some really big shoes she had to fill,” he said. “We had Eva for the past four years and Ally came on strong last year but for her to step into that role was amazing. She knew it was coming, we talked about it, we strategized in the summer about how it is to take the lead. She’s had some hiccups here and there because she is not used to it. She is maturing nicely but it isn’t just her, it was also the other girls on the team, I am so proud of them all.”

Franklin narrowly missed out on its third consecutive state appearance, finishing tied for fourth with Northwest Eaton with 167 points in the Region 1-6A Championship.  Eaton advanced on the strength of its sixth runner finishing before Franklin’s sixth runner.

Laspada placed 20th in 19:28.0 and advanced to state individually.

“There’s been a lot of pressure this season,” she said. “I was used to Eva and Ally being there for me pushing me and talking me through my races. But this year I had all my other teammates be there for me; they’ve really come through for me.”

Laspada said she learned a lot from Jess and Little.

“Eva and Ally taught me so much but probably the most important thing they taught me was to work my hardest and try my best all the time and I’ll get where I want be,” she said.

Eastwood freshman Adelynn Rodriguez will race in her first Class 6A state meet on Saturday.

Eastwood’s Walls-Portillo and Rodriguez have developed into one of the strongest 1-2 combinations in the state.

“Lauren has worked her tail off for four years and has shown great improvement every year so this is icing on the cake for her,” said Eastwood coach Mike McLain said. “We just want her to enjoy her time and enjoy what she is doing her senior year. What does it mean for Adelynn? She can learn some good lessons from Lauren’s career as she looks forward to her own great career. She can take what she has learned from this experience and make her own mark on Eastwood, the city, the state and hopefully beyond that.”

Walls-Portillo was second on a region (18:05.1) that features three of the nation’s top girls programs – Lewisville Flower Mound, Southlake Carroll and Prosper. Rodriguez was sixth in 18:28.6.

“Region 1 is sick,” McLain said.  “You have three of the top 30 teams in the nation in our region so for Lauren to finish second is just amazing. And last time I checked, Adelynn was ranked 13th among all freshman in the nation.”

It was the first team Eastwood had two girls finish in top six in regional competition.

“That means a lot to us,” McLain said. “Our girls were winning city championships before our boys were. If you go back to 2005, we’ve only not won district three or four times and in those years we didn’t win, we were second. Sixteen championships out of the past 20 years is huge.”

Eastwood’s best girl’s finish was in 2014 when Anna Mora placed eighth in 18:09.59.

“Our goal is to create memories for our athletes,” McLain said. “We believe by putting athletes first and giving them great experiences, success will follow. What’s more important is what it means for Lauren and Adelynn.”

Hanks senior Gael Alvarado won the District 2-5A title and placed 13th at regionals. He will be racing in his second state meet.

Class 5A

The Hanks Knights also have a pair of teammates in Round Rock – senior Gael Alvarado and junior Alejandro Tarin.

“Running that state meet with Gael should be a fun experience,” Tarin said. “It’s definitely better than running on my own. I really enjoy running with him so I hope it brings out the best in us.”

This is Tarin’s third trip to state – his second as an individual.

He finished 47th last year in 16:07.77.

“We’re both very competitive so that makes practices much better,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun competing against someone on your own team. Having that constant competitiveness will bring out the best in you.”

Alvarado won the District 2-5A title and placed 13th at regionals in 16:23.7. Tarin was 16th at regionals, three seconds behind his teammate in 16:29.1.

“Training is easy when you have someone else to run with,” Alvarado said. “Running with Alejandro has been very uplifting. He is bit more competitive than me but it has definitely helped us a lot.”

He said the knowledge he gained from training with former Hanks All State runners Michael Abeyta and Rodger Rivera has helped prepare for this moment.

“When Michael and Rodger were here, I was able to take their guidance and that’s what made me a better runner,” he said. “Once they left, it was just me and Alejandro so it forced us to push each other and to do better.”

Alvarado – who will making his second state appearance – missed out last year by one spot.

“I’m extremely relieved,” he said. “I’m actually more excited than nervous. I’m just happy I could run the state course my senior year.”

The Class 5A boys will race at 11:10 a.m. Friday.

Jefferson senior Crystal Peterson has been to three state Class 5A championships.

Burges senior Pamela Ramirez and Jefferson senior Crystal Peterson will be racing in the girl’s Class 5A race at 10:30 a.m. also on Friday.

Ramirez, the District 1-5A champion was eighth at regionals in 19:16.4, will be racing in her second consecutive state championship. She placed 101st in 19:53.14 last year.

This will Peterson’s third trip to state.

Class 4A

For Riverside seniors Andrew Valdiviezo and Jayden Bustillos, the journey to state began when the pair were 8th graders at Riverside Middle School.

“We have a history together of dominating in our middle school years so it’s not like he is new to the game,” Valdiviezo said. “He ran last year and just missed state by seven places. But he turned it up this year and I couldn’t be more grateful to him for that.”

Valdiviezo is appreciative to have his old middle school running mate back.

“Having Jayden with me this year has been a big help,” he said. “Last year doing everything myself was tough. This year, if I slack off he would be right there on me. If he slacks it, I would be right on him so we’ve helped out each other get better.”

Valdiviezo who placed 69th in 17:21.62 at last year’s state race.

“Things didn’t play out in my favor last year so I’ve been very eager to go back and to prove to everyone that I deserve to be there,” he said. “Coming into high school was tough because I came in from winning it all in middle school to being a mediocre runner. Once I get a feel for varsity and I started to understand how good I could become, it really helped my confidence. It took some time to get as comfortable and confident as I am but I’m glad I’m here.”

The Class 4A boys race is at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

Friends since middle school, Riverside senior Andrew Valdiviezo and Jayden Bustillos will end their high school cross country careers at the Class 4A state championship.

After taking a break from cross country his freshman and sophomore years to focus on wrestling, Bustillos returned to the course his junior year.

“Last year I really didn’t take it seriously,” he said. “But this year, I felt the love for running again. Coach (Manny) Estrada is very good coach, the way he trains us and the way he runs the program, I just found a love for it.”

The thing Bustillos loves most about cross country is just finishing.

“Even through you feel like you’re about to die and pass out, at the end, you feel so accomplished, you feel, ‘dang, I ran those 3.1 miles,’ it’s insane, not many people can do that,” he said. “I love the feeling of that accomplishment.”

Bustillos is no stranger to a state championship. He has wrestled in the past two UIL State Wrestling Tournaments, winning a silver in the 113-pound weight class last year.

“I’m not really nervous,” he said about the state cross country championship. “I’ve been in big competitions before so being in that type of environment doesn’t really get to me. I think I perform better under pressure, I don’t know why, but I do.”

So now it comes down to one race in the high school careers of Valdiviezo and Bustillos.

“It’s surreal,” Valdiviezo said. “Never would I have thought that me and that kid from middle school would be running at the state meet together. I’m very grateful for him and the coaching staff who helped us get there.”

Busitllos feels the same way.

“I know it’s going to be sad,” he said. “It’s my last race so all I can do is go out and give it all I’ve got. I already told Drew that I’m coming for him.”

Valdiviezo and Bustillos, teammates and competitors till the end.

San Elizario senior Samantha Ramirez will race in her first state meet. She placed 15th in 12:52.2 at regionals. She will race at 9 a.m. also on Saturday.

Tornillo junior Angel Torres will try to improve on his sixth place at last year’s state Class 4A championship.

Class 3A

For the first time in nine years, the boys did not qualify to state as a team.

However, sophomore Daniel Romero and junior Angel Torres will race for a spot on the medal stand at 9:30 a.m. on Friday.

Romero was third at regionals in 16:48.0 and Torres was 14th in 18:14.1.

Coach Jesse Garcia said both runners have the potential to medal.

Torres earned All State honors with his sixth place in 16:06.03 at last year’s state meet and Romero was 21st in 16:33.23.

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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