Abeyta, Gonzalez and Andrade sign early

Three El Paso cross country student-athletes have a lot to be thankful for this season as each one made their commitments to compete at the next level in the early signing period.

Michael Abeyta signed with the University of Oregon, Nick Gonzalez with St. Edwards and Seth Andrade signed with UT-Tyler.

A star at Hanks, Abeyta fulfilled a childhood goal of competing for the Ducks.

“Since I was 10 years old, I’ve always dreamed about going to the University of Oregon,” he said. “People in middle school would always tell me ‘you’re never going to get there, they won’t recruit you, they don’t take people from Texas, much less El Paso.’”

Hanks_State Champ_09 Nov 19-6
Hanks’s Michael Abeyta fulfilled a childhood dream when he signed to run at the University of Oregon.

Abeyta’s resume is impressive.

He won two UIL State Cross Country silver medals – his sophomore and senior years – was sixth is freshman and fifth his junior year, and was All State all four years.

This year’s Region 1-5A time of 14:35.10 was the fastest regional time in El Paso history.

He has also won two state gold medals – in the 1600 meters (2017) and in the 800 meters (2018), a silver in the 1600 (2018) and a bronze in the 1600 (2019).

People thought I was crazy, but I proved them wrong,” he said. “Now that it’s a reality, I am so blessed to be able to run there. I hope to make Hanks and El Paso proud.”

He picked Oregon over Oklahoma State University, Texas, Texas Tech, Gonzaga, Georgetown.

Hanks coach Kim Gomez said Abeyta is the best athlete she has ever coached.

“He came to me already a great runner, his dad has done amazing things with him since he was a little boy,” she said. “I’ve coached 36 years and I’ve seen the Culpeppers, Gilbert Contreras, the Luceros, and I think Michael is the best distance runner ever in El Paso.”

Coronado_State Champ_09 Nov 19-9
Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez was the first El Paso runner in Class 6A to cross the finish line. He finished 14th in 15:11.31 at the state championship. He will sign with St. Edwards University.

Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez picked St. Edwards, a Division 2 school in Concordia, Texas.

“The big pull for me was that I wanted to run at a program that I felt that I could grow in,” he said. “With coach (Ryan) Ponsonby and coach (Sharlie) Brooks, I thought that I could really grow under their coaching.”

He was also looking for school where he could excel academically.

“Academics are a huge deal for me and I feel that at St. Edwards I’ll have the best opportunities to grow as a student,” he said. “Eventually, I want to go to medical school and St. Edwards will prepare me for that.”

He also took a visit to Division 1 Incarnate Word before deciding on St. Edwards.

“I put my running to the side and based my decision on how good the school was academically,” he said. “I wanted to be the first in my family to run at a Division 1 school, which is one of the reasons I was looking hard at Incarnate Word. But I decided that it’s not really running I want to pursue after college, its education and that’s why I chose St. Edwards.”

Seth Andrade, a senior at Americas, was also looking for a school that was strong academically.

SethAndrade
Americas’s Seth Andrade will continue his distance career at UT-Tyler.

“I was primarily looking for a good engineering school,” he said. “I had been e-mailing coaches at schools that had good engineering programs. I started with the Colorado School of Mines but the coach didn’t respond.”

He eventually e-mailed the coach at UT-Tyler and a trip was immediately set up.

“When I went on my visit, it was really beautiful and the environment felt right,” he said. “The coach is young but I could tell by the way he speaks and how he presented himself that he was very knowledgeable and has accomplished many things.”

While on the visit, Andrade trained with the team.

“It was a really fun experience,” he said. “They each had their own personalities. They were really great. Everything that they showed me was a check on my checklist of things I wanted in a school.”

Fifteen El Paso runners seek individual state medals

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

GonzalezChapin
Chapin senior Angel Contreras (Bib No. 1609), will try to improve on his 23rd place state finish. His time last year was 15:48.70.

The Region 1 cross country championship can be excruciating, especially if you are not part of a state-qualify team and you have to wait until the final results are revealed to find out if you advanced or not.

You see, only the top four teams and the top 10 runners not on a qualifying team advance so you can cut the tension with a knife as runners from all across the region wait anxiously for the results.

As always, El Paso will have a full delegation with 15 individual runners headed to state. 

From Class 6A –  Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin.

From Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls-Portillo, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin.

From Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario.

Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

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Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson is making her second trip to the UIL State Cross Country Championship. She was 43rd last year in 19:21.03.

Last year, Eastwood sophomore Lauren Walls-Portillo ran her first state championship as part of the Troopers team in Class 5A.

“I’m going to pretend my team is with me right there because they are my motivation,” she said. “I know how much they wanted to make it but they will be with me in my heart and spirit.”

She finished 45th in 19:25.55 last year.

“It was a great opportunity for me,” she said of the 2018 meet. “Just being there was an amazing feeling. I ran pretty good but this year and I feel much stronger so I’m shooting for a higher finish.”

Knowing the course is going to be an advantage for her.

“It’s flat so that’s good,” she said. “I’m thankful that I made it. I want to go into the race with confidence and work just as hard as I did last year. I didn’t have a race strategy last year, I was just so excited to be there, but this year I actually do. I’m going to try to stay with the front pack and hopefully not die out.”

Coronado’s Gonzalez, who ran varsity all four years, will also be running his second state meet. Last year he was 21st in 15:29.16.

“Running at state has always been a dream, ever since freshman year,” he said. “Getting to regionals each year, but not making it until junior year, and now being able to make it again, is really great.”

He is looking for an All State, top 10 finish.

“I think I can do very well,” he said. “I’ve been able to continue to grow each year and each year I’ve improved. My cross country experience at Coronado has been amazing. I’ve been able to see myself progress and it really feels good seeing the work pay off.”

Mt.ViewBoys
Mt. View junior Joshua Gonzalez will try to make the most of his first state meet at the Class 4A race. He was 14th at the region 1 race finishing in 16:09.50.

Eastlake sophomore Isreal David was 43rd at last year’s Class 5A state race in 16:09.56.

He was able to experience the state experience which should serve him well his second time around.

“There’s a lot of competition there with a lot of fast runners who are going to push me pretty hard,” he said. “I’m in better shape this year because I’ve been improving a lot, working on my training and fixing what I need to fix. I going for a top 10 finish, I think I’m physically and mentally prepared for that.”

New to the state championship are Tornillo freshman Kylene Elias, Americas senior Mariana Guzman and Franklin senior Fernie Morales.

“I couldn’t believe I qualified,” said Guzman. “It felt like a dream come true. I’ve very thankful and really happy I get to represent not only my school but all of the hard work my coaches have put into coaching me.”

Guzman was 13th in the Class 6A race at regionals, racing to a 18:14.40, the second best finish from El Paso.

“It was intimidated going into the race,” she said. “I felt I was a little bit conservative towards the middle of the race thinking I might die out. I could have done a lot better so I’m looking to improve on Saturday.”

Guzman’s successful senior campaign comes after suffering through a season of injuries her junior year.

“I love running,” she said. “I love having my teammates there all the time. It was positive environment that I wanted to come back to, they are the ones that kept me going.”

Tornillo’s Elias, all  4-feet, 11-inches and 80 pounds of her, won the 2-mile, Class 3A Region 1 championship in 11:57.60 to become the first Tornillo girls to win regionals and advance to state.

“Regionals was a very cool experience  because  Hannah Spears (from Holliday) was there and she is a very good runner,” she said. “She gave me a lot of competition.”

Kylene
Tornillo freshman Kylene Elias will race for a state championship in Class 3A. She hopes to become the first girl from Tornillo to win a medal at state.

Elias’s first love was basketball but after this season, that’s changed.

“It’s not really my favorite sport anymore,” she said, laughing. “I lot of people have supported me this season. Plus, I don’t think I was really good in basketball.”

Despite her success, she remains humble.

“I don’t think that I’m that good,” she said. “Still, to this day, I don’t think I’m that good. I know I can still get better.”

She is looking forward to making more Tornillo history.

“I’m very excited because no one has ever gone to state from Tornillo from the girl’s side so this is a really good opportunity for me to make school history,” she said. “I want to get on the podium, that would be a nice way to finish my freshman year.”

Also new to the sport – and to the state meet – is Franklin senior Fernie Morales,

“For the past three years I played football,” he said. “My junior year I did really well in the 800 (in track),  so I  decided running was better suited for me going into college than football. Also, that season, a lot of my teammates where getting ACL and MCL tears, I didn’t want to risk anything that might effect my running so I decided to get out of football.”

And that decisions has paid off.

“My coaches  told me in order to get ready for track season in the 800, they thought I should try cross country and see how I did,” he said.

He earned a top 20 Class 6A Region 1 finish and a trip to state

“I’m  nervous and excited-  and honestly a bit surprised,” he said of the state meet. “On Saturday, I’ll be happy running my race to the best of my ability and PR  or better than I did at regionals.”

Americas looks for state vindication

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin. Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin. Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario. Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

AmericasBoys
The Americas boys hope a solid season of racing will translate into a state medal.

The words “redemption,” “disappointment” and “respect” keep creeping up when it comes to the Americas boy’s second trip trip to the UIL State Cross Country Championship.

It’s true, Americas did finish 15th out of 16 teams at last year’s state championship, the team’s first in school history.

It’s also true that the Trailblazers took their lumps on that Old Settlers Park course.

But they also learned some valuable lessons that helped propel them to a solid 2019 season, a second place Region 1-6A finish and an opportunity to right a wrong.

“Coming out as the fourth place team from Region 1 last year, we expected to do pretty well at state,” Americas coach Kenny Lucero said. “But that didn’t happen and the kids were pretty disappointed. The day after the state race, they committed themselves to work as hard they can to get back there and really redeem themselves.”

First step was at the Region 1 Championship where Americas finished second  between two nationally-ranked teams.

Southlake Carroll (ranked 18th in the nation) was first and Flower Mound (sixth in the nation) was third.

The Trailblazers placed three runners in the top 20 – seniors Jacob Ye (fifth, 14:58.40) and Hector Sanchez (ninth, 15:05.60) and sophomore Jared Laverty (16th, 15:22.50) – to earn 80 points, 20 points behind Southlake Carroll.

Other scoring runners were sophomore Aaron Saenz (22nd, 15:32.60) and senior Seth Andrade (28th, 15:37.80.

Junior Gage Garcia and  sophomore Melo Corral make up the rest of the team.

With five of the seven runners back – Sanchez and Saenz are new to the stage – expectations are running high.

“Last year, people where saying, ‘look out for El Paso Americas’ and then we go out there and not perform exactly the way we wanted to … OK, I’ll say it, we choked, we choked,” Ye said with a laugh. “The guys are really excited. We’ve seen some state meet previews on MileSplit  and they don’t have us predicted very high so that helps add fuel to the fire. All the guys are really motivated to go out there and prove everybody wrong and show that we can run with the top dogs.”

Ye, who ran a 15:47.33 at state last year, said finishing as Region 1 runner-up has boosted the team’s confidence.

“That was a big confidence booster for sure but regionals is a different race than state,” he said. “After regionals, the team talked about how well we did but we realize there is a bigger picture. I reminded them that Southlake always shows up at state and we know Flower Mound is not happy that an El Paso team beat them so they are going to come back with a vengeance. We now have a target on our back.”

AmericasJacobYe
Americas senior Jacob Ye (No. 1308) finished fifth at the Region 1-6A championship. He hopes to lead the Trailblazers to the school’s first team state medal.

But they also know they can compete against the best in Texas.

The reason most of us are not overly excited is because we’ve worked hard for this moment and all of us have been running for many years so we  know how to handle the pressure,” he said. “We all have one common goal that we haven’t reached yet so we’re still not satisfied.”

Andrade said the team is more focused this year.

“We’re really excited that we were able to get second place at regionals,” he said. “We all ran our best, but the next day at practice we were focused and ready to accomplish our next goal of doing great things at state. We want to redeem ourselves by going out there and running as hard as we can and try to get top three.”

He said the team has applied the lessons of last year into it’s pre-race preparation.

“I didn’t handle the pressure as well as I wanted to,” he said. “It was a great experience, but now that I’ve experienced it, I’m a lot more ready and I know what to expect. The lesson I learned is we need to stay focused and not crack under the pressure of having so many schools there. You have to run your race as best as possible and you have to remember what you are running for. In our case, it’s for each other.”

Americas.HectorSanchez
Senior Hector Sanchez has been a nice addition to an already strong Americas team. He finished 10th at the Region 1-6A championship.

Lucero said the team is using last year’s experience to fuel them for Saturday’s race.

“You can come up with the greatest motivational speeches in the world, but if the kids don’t want it inside, they are not going to perform,” he said. “Finishing second has given them confidence and their motivation is from the disappointment of last year’s results. I don’t think I have to say much. They have been there before and they were disappointed, they’ve run consistent as a pack all year, they really haven’t had a meet where they let down as a group.  We are as healthy as we ever been so I think the kids are going to surprise a lot of people.”

Franklin’s fairy tale season gets better

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin. Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin. Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario. Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

 

FranklinDuo
Sophomores Jenna Saunders (left) and Jordan Torres have been solid for the Cougars all season. Saunders was 37th at regionals and Torres was 43rd in 19:35.10.

Coming into the season, Franklin cross country coach Anthony Laspada thought 2020 would be the year his girl’s team would advance to the UIL Cross Country Championship.

With four freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, his timeline made sense.

But the Franklin girls – freshmen Alyssa Laspada, Sophia Camacho, Amanda Sotelo and Michele Paillard, sophomores Jenna Saunders and Jordan Torres and All State runner and Region 1-6A champion, Eva Jess – had different ideas.

For the first time, a girl’s team from Franklin advanced to the state championship.

The boys accomplished that feat in 2001.

“We knew how tough it was going to be, but in our hearts, we were never going to back down,” Laspada said. “We had nothing to lose so we were going to go out swinging.”

By the slimmest of margins, the team finished fourth tied with Lewisville Marcus with 154 points but Sotelo, the Cougars sixth runner, placed four spots better than the Marcus runner to give the Cougars the bid to state.

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Freshman Amanda Sotelo, the Cougars sixth runner, placed four spots better than the Marcus runner to give the Cougars the bid to state.

“I told the girls that everybody has to get on that starting line and everybody has to run, it’s just a matter of who has the biggest heart,” Laspada said. “Even if they didn’t qualify I was proud of their performance and the way they worked together. I knew, watching them in that race, that they were giving it their all, it was in God’s hands. We were blessed.”

Jess, the lone junior, won the Region 1 title in 16:56.80. Last year, she finished the state meet in 14th place in 17:40.36. Her freshman year, she was fifth in 17:34.75.

“It’s so great having my teammates with me this time,” she said. “We were all so excited, the girls were all in tears when we found out. This is going to be a great experience for all of them, a memory that will be with them the rest of their lives.”

Mooch, Jess’s smiling stuffed monkey, will also make the trip.

Laspada continues to be impressed with the his girls team-first, every-runner-counts mentality.

“Besides Eva, who has just come out and dominated, every week there is a different runner who shows up,” he said. “At one time or another, all these girls have carried each other, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what a good team is all about, if somebody is down then somebody else will pick them up.”

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Franklin freshman Alyssa Laspada is spent after chasing down Marissa Gross form South Grand Prairie. Laspada was the Cougars No. 2 at Regionals.

The work ethic – and the winning – is contagious.

“It’s amazing what it’s done for our chemistry and camaraderie,” he said. “They spend so much time together not only running but just hanging out and being friends. I really believe that attributes to why they are so successful.”

That team togetherness translates into results.

“They never take a day off, either,” Laspada said. “A lot of kids can become complacent, our girls are the complete opposite. They work harder and harder each and every day and that’s trickling down to our lower levels.”

As proof, Franklin’s top five scorers ran sub 20s at regionals including Jess,  Laspada (34th, 19:13.00), Saunders (37th, 19:1820), Camacho (39th, 19:27.30) and Jordan Torres (43rd, 19:35.10).

“It’s amazing, I still can’t believe it,” said Alyssa Laspada, the coach’s daughter. “We’ve been working so hard for this moment ever since the summer.”

Last year, these freshmen were running at middle school meets. On Saturday, they will race against the best in Texas.

“We are not intimidated, we are very much up for the challenge,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming about going to state since I was very young. We’re going to do the best we can. Coming into the season we were hoping to make state, now we think we have a chance at the top 10, that would be great for us.”

Laspada said he hopes the energy from qualifying translates to a special Saturday afternoon.

“It’s tough every year,” he said about qualifying to state. “Next year is never guaranteed. We have to live in the moment and do our best when we get there. Just like at regionals, we’re going to go out swinging, we have nothing to lose. It’s been an amazing ride, a nice little fairy tale, for our whole team. We are truly blessed.”

Eastwood takes state run in stride

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin. Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin. Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario. Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

EastwoodBoys
The Troopers defended its Region 1-5A title and now look for its second straight Class 5A State championship.

You won’t hear Eastwood cross country coach Mike McLain talk about defending the Trooper’s Class 5A UIL State Championship this weekend.

“It’s just another meet, another meet we’re going to run in, that’s it,” he said. “A lot of people will say winning isn’t their motivator, and usually the people who say that, winning is the only motivator they have.”

Don’t get him wrong, he would like nothing more than to bring another state championship to El Paso, but winning gold isn’t the end game.

“I would be lying to say that we aren’t trying to win, but more importantly than winning is the experience the kids will have,” he said. “That’s why we take so many kids on out-of-town trips. A lot them will not make our varsity, but does that mean they don’t deserve to see some of these big out-of-town meets and to experience their teammates and carry that with them the rest of their lives?”

Eastwood is no stranger to the state meet, making seven appearances in the past eight years.

The Troopers won their first state crown last year, winning the Class 5A race with 62 points, 25 better than Austin Johnson. In 2017, Eastwood won bronze in Class 6A. Eastwood finished sixth in 2016 (6A), 14th in 2015 (6A), fifth in 2014 (6A), fourth in 2012 (5A) and sixth in 2011 (5A).

“We are always trying to win, and we’ve done a lot of it, so it shows,” he said. “But the number one factor for us is giving these kids an experience that, 20 to 30 years from now, they will say, ‘Man, that was worth doing.’”

McLain said he and his staff enjoy taking athletes such as senior Juan Olmos and Elias Perez and instilling a belief in them that they can do whatever they put their minds to.

“Getting kids that were not superstars to train like and to believe they are superstars, and to get the results that they do, to me, that is the magic,” he said.

He points to Perez as a prime example. Perez  ran a 14.25.90 at the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic, the first El Paso runner to break in the Top 10 at Woodbridge and ran a sub-15 Regional (14:57.80), only the second Eastwood athlete to go under 15 minutes at regionals (current Furman University runner Daniel Bernal was the first).

EastwoodOlmos-Hernandez
Eastwood senior Juan Olmos and junior Nathan Hernandez hope to defend the Troopers Class 5A UIL state team championship on Saturday in Round Rock.

“He was was no big deal in middle school,” McLain said with a smile. “He wasn’t even top 10 in our district meet. He was 16. He comes in and works his butt off and now people look at him as a stud. I don’t think happens at a lot of other places.”

Perez, who finished 21st at last year’s state meet in 15:47.13, said he wasn’t serious about running until he arrived at Eastwood.

“It was the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “Being able to run, especially with this team, is the best decision I’ve ever made.”

No doubt, 2018 was a special year for Eastwood, winning the state title and Nike South which qualified them for Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) at Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon.

The Troopers were the first team from El Paso, and the first all-Hispanic team, to advance to the national championship.

EastwoodPerez
Senior Elias Perez was fourth in Region 1-5A racing to a time of 14:57.80. He is the second Eastwood athlete to go under 15 minutes at regionals.

This year’s team – seniors Perez and Olmos, juniors Nathan Hernandez, Sergio Cuartes, Victor Parra and sophomores Victor Anchondo and Andres Gurrola – are focused on 2019.

“We really don’t worry too much about having to win state again or having to top what we did last year, that’s not our focus,” Perez said. “We just have to work hard, prepare properly and run as a team and hopefully it will happen again.”

Olmos, who finished 12th in 15:33.69 at last year’s state meet, said the team trusts the process and the blueprint that has been laid out for them.

“We’ve been getting better every year,” he said. “From freshman year to junior year to this year, we’ve been getting better and improving. We really don’t focus on what we did last year or how we have to do that again or else the season isn’t successful. Last year was great, but that was last year and it’s over. Our focus is the next race and giving it our best.”

But, another state championship would be nice.

“The perfect outcome is winning, always,” he said. “Everyone wants to win, no question. That’s why we go there, that’s why we race. We show up and show out, to be on top. We want to run a good solid race, run together and maybe win it. We don’t want to see any other outcome so we’re going to run really hard to have that happen. But even if we don’t win, it will still be a good race because we ran hard for each other.”

The Troopers casual approach to defending its title is a reflection of its coach.

“Whatever happens at state will happen,” McLain said. “Our goal is to get what we can out of the guys who show up and who is willing to put in the work. It’s what we do, we invest in every kid because we believe in them.”

After 3 decades, Hanks is back at state

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin. Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin. Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario. Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

Hanks-Gael,Alejandro
Hanks freshman Alejandro Tarin and sophomore Gael Alvarado will be heavily counted on at the state meet.

The 32-year drought for the Hanks Knights boy’s cross country team is finally over.

For the first time since 1987 – when the team earned a bronze – Hanks will compete for a UIL state cross country team medal.

“We talked about it a lot over the season,” said Kim Gomez, the school’s cross country coach since 1990. “Having Michael (Abeyta) and Rodger (Rivera), we told the other boys that if there’s ever a chance, the time is now.”

The Knights were Region 1-5A runner-ups with 84 points, second to Eastwood which won with 57 points.

As expected, Abeyta and Rivera ran solid races with Abeyta finishing second in 14:35.10, the fastest any El Pasoan has ever run on the Region 1 course in Lubbock and Rivera was third in 14:51.30.

But it’s what the “other” runners did that was so great.

Freshman Alejandro Tarin was 22nd (15:33.70), senior Omar Munoz was 27th, (15:55.70) and sophomore Gael Alvarado was 30th (15:57.40). Juniors Michael Antuna and Christian Jaquez round out the team.

“Last year we finished sixth and we watched Burges advance to state,” she said. “We had been beating Burges in El Paso all year so the kids were really disappointed. It was in our mind all year so when we got second it was just amazing.”

And agonizing.

“I honestly didn’t see my number three runner come in, I couldn’t find him after the bridge, nobody could find him,” Gomez said. “I was having a fit, but once I found out he was my number three, I knew we were good; it was a great feeling, it really was.”

This is the first time Gomez has taken her entire squad to state.

Abeyta, a senior, has been All State the past three years finishing fifth last year, second his sophomore year and sixth his freshman year.

“I’m very grateful that I was able to help my team come up with me this year,” he said. “It’s nice that I won’t be traveling up there by myself. This time, I’ll have friends to back me up there. We are more than just teammates, we’re brothers so I know we’re going to have a blast up there.”

Hanks-Abeyta
Hanks senior Michael Abeyta and Graydon Morris from Aledo are expected to have their final battle at the Class 5A UIL State Cross Country Championship on Saturday,

He said the entire Hanks program is excited for the opportunity.

“They’re anxious, they are ready to get out there and run already,” Abeyta said. “We have to remind them of how we got here in the first place. It took all of us to work hard to put us in this situation. It took all of us to place second at regionals. We have to remind them to stay fresh, don’t do anything dumb, keep your body healthy and most importantly, have fun, you have to have fun and enjoy the experience.”

Rivera advanced to state last year placing eighth, to earn All-State honors.

“When we found out that we made it to state, everybody was super happy and really proud,” he said. “We placed better than we thought we could do, second, right behind Eastwood.”

For Rivera, who is in San Antonio for the UIL State Marching Band Contest, the team state berth has been a long-time coming.

“This team has been working hard to stay close to me and Michael,” he said. “We’ve been doing the same speed workouts but we are working really hard to keep closer together. The goal is to get on the medal stand and everyone is pretty hyped about it.”

Abeyta has always talked about how great it was to be able to represent Hanks at state, but he always had a desire to be part of a team, chasing a state medal.

“That says a lot about Michael, that is truly who Michael is,” Gomez said. “Michael is a great leader and motivator and he really wanted these boys to make it just as he wanted it for himself. He has always wanted his teammates to feel what he feels and now they will have that opportunity.”

Hanks-Rodger
Hanks senior Rodger Rivera hopes to repeat his All State performance at the UIL State Cross Country Championship.

But this team is more than the senior superstars.

“I’m just proud of the seven individual boys and I’m thrilled to death that they made state,” Gomez said. “I am so proud of what these boys have accomplished because they believed in themselves all year. Seeing these boys grow and mature has been a joy. My No. 3 guy at regionals is a freshman but in the summer, it was like pulling teeth to get him to practice in the morning. But once he did, I was very proud. That was the only time he was my three, Gael Alvardo was my three all year and the other one that was top 5, Omar, he has been No. 3 in some races.  All they need is an opportunity.”

An opportunity for a state medal awaits the Hanks Knights, right there within their grasp.

“I’ve been telling the boys that we can do this, that we can get on the podium,” Gomez said. “I told them we just don’t want to get to state and run, we need to get to state and get on that podium.”

 

San Elizario not comfortable with role as “favorites”

State Championship Previews

Saturday: Tornillo boys.

Sunday: San Elizario boys.

Monday: Hanks boys.

Tuesday: Eastwood boys.

Wednesday: Franklin girls.

Thursday: Americas boys.

Friday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Mariana Guzman; Montwood junior Karyme Garcia, Coronado senior Nick Gonzalez and freshman Kyra Walker and Franklin senior Fernie Morales, Franklin. Class 5A – Jefferson sophomore Crystal Peterson and junior Melody Tsuitsumi; Lauren Walls, sophomore, Eastwood; Eastlake sophomore Israel David and Angel Contreras, senior, Chapin. Class 4A- Mt. View junior  Kayhla Talavera, senior Nicole Estrada and junior Joshua Gonzalez and Karina Gallegos, junior, San Elizario. Class 3A – Freshman, Kylene Elias, Tornillo.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Saturday Nov. 9. All times (CST): Girls Class 3A, 10:50 a.m.; Boys Class 3A, 11:20 a.m.; Girls Class 4A, noon;  Boys Class 4A, 12:30 p.m.; Girls Class 5A, 1:10 p.m.; Boys Class 5A, 1:50 p.m.; Girls Class 6A, 2:30 p.m.; Boys Class 6A, 3:10 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

San Eli Boys Pack
San Elizario has won four Class 4A state cross country championships in the past five years.

The San Elizario Eagles have never been comfortable wearing the “favorites” label.

Sure, the Cotton Valley school has won four Class 4A state cross country championships in the past five years and junior Edwin Gomez has won an individual gold and a silver.

But last year, going after its fifth straight UIL state championship, the Eagles fell 12 points short, finishing third behind Region 1 foes Decatur and Andrews.

“We were not the favorites at regionals, and we will not be the favorites at state,” said Cesar Morales, the coach at San Elizario. “Throughout the year we’ve been ranked fourth or fifth in the state from various organizations so there is going to be less pressure on us.”

The San Elizario Eagles retained the top spot at the Region 1 meet, winning with 64 points to advance to the state meet for the sixth year in a row.

Decatur was second with 68 points, Andrews was third with 92 and Canyon with 121 points.

“Not winning state last year actually helped us,” Morales said. “We are back to being humble, we have our feet back on the ground and we know we had to work even harder. It really brought the team closer.”

At regionals, San Elizario had three runners in the top 10 – Edwin Gomez (second, 14:53.50), Rene Arambula (ninth, 15:55.00) and Dilan Sanchez (tenth, 15:55.60) and five in the top 25 – Irvin Vazquez (19th, 16:19.40) and Alan Ceballos (24th, 16:26.70).

Sanchez-Vasquez
Junior Dilan Sanchez and sophomore Irvin Vazquez have been solid third and fourth runners for the Eagles.

“I told the team before the regional race that it didn’t matter if we won regions or not, the real deal is going to be at the state meet,” Morales said. “We know in 4A, the state champion usually comes out of Region 1. For the past three to four years Region 1 has been battling for first, second or third.”

Morales credits Gomez and Arambula’s maturity and leadership for the team’s success.

“In the past month, Edwin and Rene changed the culture of our team,” Morales said. “It was already good, but they made it so much better. They are working hard to help my fifth, sixth and seventh runners. We were good a month ago, but now we are lot better.”

Morales said there is a 25-second gap between the second and fourth runner with the number five runner closing in.

“We’ve been doing more pack running, team bonding, in a way,” Arambula said. “What me and Edwin are doing is staying a little bit closer with them and then we start to slowly speed up so they could get used to the pace. They stay with us and then push themselves as hard as we do.”

Arambula, a senior, said it would be great to win another state championship and finish in the top 10 individually.

Arambula
Senior Rene Arambula would like to end his high school cross country career with a top 10 finish and his third team state championship.

“It would be great for our school to add another state championship and start another streak,” he said.  “Every year is special, every team is special, but I really do enjoy training with these guys.”

Gomez said it is no fluke that San Elizario will contend for another state championship.

“Where we are now is because of the work we’ve put in over the summer,” he said. “We have all been working together to get better.”

He said he is doing his part in close the gap.

“When we have our 8-mile runs, I try to stay with the team the first few miles at a 7:15 pace,” he said. “We stay together until we get to the fourth mile and then we pick up the pace, but we try to stay together. Last year, I would go fast at the end in front of everyone. Now I try to stay with them and go back with whoever is in the back and try to pick them up so we can all be together.”

Gomez said he has drawn inspiration from Arambula.

“He is very mature in the way he approaches running,” he said. “Everything I do, he tries to make it better. I have more respect for him than anyone in school. He is one of the top 10 in his class, so he is smart. He tries harder more than one else I’ve seen. He tries to help everyone by telling them to keep pace and to stay focused and don’t think about getting tired.”

An individual medal is not the goal for Gomez this year.

“I really don’t care where I end up, what I do care about is us winning as a team,” he said. “We’re in a really good place right now. We have a chance to win, but everything has to fall into place.”

Twelve points separated San Elizario from another state championship. That’s a couple of runners running five seconds faster over a 3.1-mile course. That’s how close the Eagles came from keeping their state-championship streak alive.

“We know it’s going to be close,” Morales said. “The team that is more focused and mentally prepared is going to win. Any of us can take it, we just have to fight and be prepared for anything.”