State Championship Previews
Saturday: Cathedral boys.
Sunday: Tornillo boys.
Monday: San Elizario boys.
Tuesday: Burges boys.
Wednesday: Eastwood boys and girls.
Thursday: Americas boys.
Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Coronado, senior Liam Walsh, junior Nick Gonzalez and senior Jennelle Jaeger-Daraksy; Franklin senior Jacobo Wedemeyer and Franklin sophomore Eva Jess. Class 5A – Hanks juniors Michael Abeyta and Rodger Rivera; Eastlake’s freshman Israel David and seniors Carlos Armendariz, Aeriel Garcia and Amaris Chavez; Chapin junior Angel Contreras; Andress senior Chauncey Wilkes and Jefferson freshman Crystal Peterson. Class 4A – Mt. View junior Nicole Estrada.
What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.
When: Saturday Nov. 3. All times (CST): Girls Class 6A, 8:30 a.m.; Boys Class 6A, 9:10 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 12:10 p.m.; Girls Class 4A, 1:20 p.m.; Boys Class 4A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 3:10 p.m.
Where: Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
At Stake: State team and individual titles.
Lauren Villareal is the epitome of what an Eastwood cross country athlete is.
For three years, the senior ran track – mostly the 400 and 800 – and never once considered distance.
After many of her races, cross country coach Mike McLain would ask her about joining the cross country team.
This summer she took him up on that offer.
On Saturday, Villareal will be part of the first Eastwood girl’s team since 1988 to compete at the Class 5A UIL State Cross Country Championship. That 1988 team finished fourth.
“I always thought of myself as a sprinter but by my junior year, I realized I wasn’t a sprinter after all,” Villareal said, only half jokingly. “I finally took coach McLain’s offer up and started training with the team in the summer.”
It wasn’t easy but Villareal, the lone senior, pushed on with the help or her new teammates – juniors Meadow Ortiz, Eileen McLain, Destiny Martinez and Andrea Miramontes and freshman Lauren Wall.
“It was really rough on me,” she said. “I was always behind the other girls and it was hard for me. But the girls stuck with me and helped me get where I’m at right now.”
The Trooper will attempt to be the first girls team from Eastwood to medal since the 1987 team that won Region 1 and captured the bronze medal at state.
“These girls had to overcome a lot,” McLain said. “One of my top girls broke her ankle playing club basketball. She’s come back and running well but not at the level she would have if not for the injury.”
McLain said the team has had to replace quality runners from last year’s team.
“We don’t get very many of those really talented club kids so we have to build our runners up,” he said. “Lauren is an example of that. Everybody is going to have their own struggles but it’s those struggles that make the victories better.”
Villareal said she wishes she would have started cross country her freshman year.
“The girls have been really great,” she said. “We are so close, we’re like a family who always helps each other out. We try to push each other harder and harder every single day.”
Eastwood’s boys team is also headed to state for the seventh consecutive year. Last fall, the Troopers placed third in Class 6A.
“This group of boys understands the team culture that me and my coaches try to create,” McLain said. “They understand it and embrace it.”
Eastwood joins a short list of schools from El Paso to have a boys and girls team represented at state. The Chapin Huskies did it in 2006, the Burges Mustangs accomplished that feat in 1983 and 1984 and Bel Air sent boys and girls teams in 1979, 1980 and 1981.
The 1983 Burges teams earned medals, the girls silver and the boys bronze.
Out in the county, Clint, under Sonny Pitts, took boys and girls teams to state four consecutive years – from 1994 to 1997.
The boys team, which won the Region 1-5A meet by 79 points, consists of seniors Kayn Quinones and Eddie Gallegos, juniors Juan Olmos and Elias Perez and sophomores Sergio Cuartas, Aaron Perez and Nathan Hernandez.
“These guys have an ability to run together as a pack that I have never seen a team in El Paso ever have,” McLain said. “Even last week when one of my top kids, Nathan Hernandez, turns into my No. 7 because of asthma issues, we still get four in the top 10 and my five guy is 15th.”
Gallegos said the team hopes to add a third gold medal after winning the District 2-5A and the Region 1-5A championship.
“There is no pressure on us, and that’s something we have to thank our coach for,” he said. “A lot of other coaches expect so much out of their runners and if they don’t meet that expectation then you’re horrible or you aren’t living up to your worth. Our coach has made it stress-free. We are going into to state like any other race. Just like we prepared for district, just like we prepare for Desert Twilight or Woodbridge. We understand the stakes are higher but it’s just another race.”
Gallegos, who finished 15th at the regional, has bought in to the “team-first” culture at Eastwood.
“We run hard for each other, we take pride in that,” he said. “Seeing your teammates working hard makes you want to work just as hard, too. Why shouldn’t we work hard for each other?”
Eastwood’s pack running could prove the difference on Saturday as they chase two-time defending state champion Lucas Lovejoy.
“The pack running benefits us simply because we’re with each other; we are not alone,” Gallegos said. “You have six other people there who have worked just as hard as you and who are just as nervous as you that are ready to prove something. We are going to do this because this is what we’ve been training for.”
McLain said competing and being successful against the country’s and region’s best runners has been beneficial.
“Running in these big meets keeps our kids very relaxed,” he said. “They are not as stressed as other teams. That’s one reason it’s important for my girls to have made this meet. It’s not always just training that gets you things, its mental attitude. Once you accomplish something once, its easier to accomplish it the second time.”