Tornillo finishes in 7th in Class 3A; Angel Torres named All State

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:. Tuesday, Nov. 24: Class 4A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 6A boys, 2:15 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

Tornillo sophomore Angel Torres (center) earned All State honors after finishing sixth in Class 3A in 16:06.03. Sophomore Kylene Elias (left) and freshman Daniel Romero (right), were state nominated runners.

Day one of the 2020 UIL Cross Country Championship did not go as expected for El Paso Class 3A and 5A athletes.

The day ended with only one All State runner – Tornillo sophomore Angel Torres – who finished sixth in Class 3A in 16:06.03.

“I usually start slow but I had to man-up and start fast and it paid off,” Torres said. “It was a special feeling being able to represent Tornillo like that. I never thought this could happen but I knew I had the potential to do it.”

Tornillo coach Jesse Garcia said he knew Torres could be a top 10 runner.

“I told him before the race that I knew he had a whole other level but for some reason he seems afraid to reach it,” Garcia said. “I told him I know it’s there, just bring it, release it and that’s exactly what he did. He finally learned how to run at a big varsity event, hopefully he grows from here.”

The team placed seventh with 178 points. Presidio, which runs in the same district as Tornillo, won the state championship with 65 points followed by Valley View (101) and Whitesboro (102).

Freshman Daniel Romero was 21st in 16:33.23, seniors Bryan Garcia (53rd, 17:05.24) and senior Michael Maney (87th, 17:44.05) finished 3rd and 4th for Tornillo while junior Bryan Guzman (122nd, 20:56.32), who was nursing an injury was Tornillo’s fifth man.

“It was a rollercoaster of season, so many ups and downs,” Garcia said. “It felt like an obstacle course. There were one too many things to deal with this season. It really was a season that wasn’t supposed to happen but yet we managed to get to state again.”

It was the 11th Tornillo team to advance to state in the past 12 years.

“I am really proud of the kids,” he said. “We could have given up a long time ago, yet they were resilient. Am I happy with our performance at state – no – but it was a learning experience and we got through the season.

Tornillo sophomore Kylene Elias finished in 14th place in the girl’s two-mile race in 12:32.69.

In Class 5A boys, Chapin’s Joaquin Ortega capped his senior year finishing 42nd at state in 16:06.82, Hanks sophomore Alex Tarin was 47th in 16:07.77 and El Paso High senior Josep Ferret was 106th in 17:13.37.

The two girls representing El Paso in Class 5A finished back-to-back – Jefferson junior Monique Correa was 100th in 19:52.85 and Burges junior Pamela Ramirez was 101st in 19:53.14.

12 athletes seek state glory; Americas’ Laverty overcomes early-season struggles to advance

State Championship Previews

Today: Tornillo boys.

Thursday: San Elizario boys.

Friday: Eastwood boys.

Saturday: Franklin girls.

Sunday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Michael Mier; Americas junior Jared Laverty; Eastlake junior Israel David; Eastwood junior, Lauren Walls-Portillo and Montwood sophomore, Kassandra Jimenez. Class 5A – Burges junior, Pamela Ramirez; Jefferson junior, Monique Correa; El Paso High senior, Josep Ferret; Hanks sophomore, Alejandro Tarin; Chapin senior, Joaquin Ortega, Chapin. Class 4A – Riverside junior, Andrew Valdiviezo. Class 3A – Tornillo sophomore, Kylene Elias.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Monday, Nov. 23. All times (MDT): Class 3A girls, 10:45 a.m.; Class 3A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 5A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 5A boys, 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24: Class 4A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 6A boys, 2:15 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

Americas Jared Laverty had to overcome a number of obstacles this season but persevered and earned a third state appearance.

The 2020 UIL State Cross Country Championship will be bit different for Americas junior Jared Laverty.

The previous two seasons, Americas had qualified as a team.

However, the Trailblazers finished fourth in Region 1, eight points out of state contention. In a non-pandemic year, Americas would have qualified for its third straight state championship meet.

“I would prefer to have my team with me like the past couple of years,” Laverty said. “I really don’t know what it’s going to be like without them. I don’t know what’s it going to be like to be in a race without a team but I think I’ll be more focused this time because we won’t have time to mess around.”

Laverty will not totally be alone. Americas senior Michael Mier qualified to his first state meet.

Laverty and Mier are two of 12 El Paso athletes who qualified for state as individuals – runners who finished in the top 10 at Regionals who are not part of a qualifying team.

Also qualifying are in Class 6A are junior Israel David, Eastlake; junior Lauren Walls-Portillo, Eastwood and sophomore Kassandra Jimenez, Montwood.

In Class 5A its junior Pamela Ramirez, Burges; junior Monique Correa, Jefferson; senior Josep Ferret, El Paso High; sophomore Alejandro Tarin, Hanks and senior Joaquin Ortega, Chapin.

In Class 4A, it will be Riverside junior, Andrew Valdiviezo and in Class 3A, Tornillo’s sophomore Kylene Elias.

Riverside junior Andrew Valdiviezo will race in the Class 4A divison at the UIL State Cross Country Championship on Tuesday.

“Right when I got on the bus after regionals I was locked in, already thinking about state,” said Valdiviezo, who will be racing in his first state championship. “I want to make sure that I compete to the best of my ability and make a name for myself at the state level.”

Laverty will be racing with added motivation.

He will be running in memory of his grandfather Fred Martinez, who passed away late in the season.

“He was always there for me,” he said. “It didn’t matter where I went, he would be there. I would race in Alabama and he was there. I could run in England and he would show up to watch me race.”

“Grandpa Fred” was one of Laverty’s biggest supporters.

“A couple of hours after he passed my dad told me,” he said. “My parents (Kim and Dale Laverty) told me if I didn’t want to run the next meet, that would be fine, they understood but my dad told me if he ever passed that he would want me to run in the next race and give it all I have. He told me he didn’t want me to stop racing and stop doing what I love. He said he was still going to be there for me, even though I might see him physically, he would still be there watching over me.”

Laverty said he continued with the season with a heavy heart, but he felt stronger as championship season approached.

“I kept him in thought as I continued training and racing,” he said. “I was doing it for him because I knew he wanted to see me go to state and do all these great things this season.”

Laverty finished 25th at last year’s championship in 15:21.72.

Montwood sophomore Kassandra Jimenez will be racing in her first UIL State Cross Country Championship. She won the TCAL state championship last year as a student at the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

Montwood’s Jimenez is also no stranger to a Texas state cross country championship.

She ran one last year and won a Texas Christian Athletic League state championship while running for the Young Women’s Leadership Academy.

On Tuesday, she will be competing on a much bigger stage – the Class 6A UIL State Cross Country Championship in Round Rock.

“My times have improved a lot this year because the coaches at Montwood are great and they work really hard to help us out as a team,” Jimenez said. “I’ve also worked very hard with the girls on the team who pushed me when I needed it.”

Despite moving up in competition, Jimenez said she is optimistic about Tuesday’s race.

“I know there’s going to be a lot of competition so I’m hoping to PR and stay up with the girl’s from El Paso,” she said. “This season has been great for me and my teammates at Montwood. I had a great team to train and run with this season and for that I am grateful.”

Jefferson junior Monique Correa will race in her first UIL State Championship on Monday.

Also returning to state are Eastlake’s David who finished seventh in 15:05.63 to earn All State Class 5A honors, Eastwood’s Walls-Portillo had a top 50 finish in Class 5A (19:01.29, 46th place) and Tarin, who ran a 16:23.43 for Hanks in Class 5A.

Tornillo’s Elias won the school’s first girl’s state medal last year, finishing third in 11:37.79 on the two-mile course.

She said she is better prepared for it this year.

“I know how to race now,” she said. “Last year I was super, super nervous and I didn’t know any better and I got trapped behind a few runners. I had to use all my strength and I lost all my energy in the first mile. This year I have a better race strategy and I’m going to race smarter.”

Family and friends keep coronacoaster ride manageable as Franklin heads to state

State Championship Previews

Today: Tornillo boys.

Thursday: San Elizario boys.

Friday: Eastwood boys.

Saturday: Franklin girls.

Sunday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Michael Mier; Americas junior Jared Laverty; Eastlake junior Israel David; Eastwood junior, Lauren Walls-Portillo and Montwood sophomore, Kassandra Jimenez. Class 5A – Burges junior, Pamela Ramirez; Jefferson junior, Monique Correa; El Paso High senior, Josep Ferret; Hanks sophomore, Alejandro Tarin; Chapin senior, Joaquin Ortega, Chapin. Class 4A – Riverside junior, Andrew Valdiviezo. Class 3A – Tornillo sophomore, Kylene Elias.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Monday, Nov. 23. All times (MDT): Class 3A girls, 10:45 a.m.; Class 3A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 5A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 5A boys, 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24: Class 4A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 6A boys, 2:15 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

The Franklin Cougars are headed to its second straight Class 6A UIL State Cross Country Championship.

As the world continues to deal with COVID-19, cross country athletes across the state have been on a three-month ride on the coronacoaster, never really knowing if the season would be completed or not.

In El Paso, it was even worse. The season was put in jeopardy a week before districts when the El Paso, Socorro and Canutillo school districts suspended athletics for two weeks because of the uptick in COVID-19 cases in El Paso.

It wasn’t until less than 24 hours before the scheduled district championships were to take place when a decision was made to allow them to race. The meet was pushed back one day to give the athletes time to prepare.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Alyssa Laspada, a  sophomore at Franklin. “We were on Facetime all day that day. We didn’t know what to do. One minute we thought we would be racing and start to mentally prepare for it and then the next minute we weren’t. I’m glad we did, but either way, we would have made the most of it.”

The Franklin Cougars are headed to its second straight Class 6A UIL State Cross Country Championship.

The team – senior Eva Jess and Ally Little, juniors Jenna Saunders and Jordan Torres, and sophomores Laspada, Michele Paillard and Sofia Camacho – will race at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

Jess finished second at last year’s championship in 17:12.18. The team finished 15th.

Franklin sophomore Alyssa Laspada is looking for better things at Tuesday’s Class 6A State Championship.

If the 2020 cross country season has taught us anything, it’s that we all need our friends.

“Our girls are very close, they are constantly with each other,” said Anthony Laspada, Franklin’s cross country coach. “Ally, Alyssa, Jenna and Jordan have made the season really fun for the entire group – they’re all into Tiktok and dancing around. They’ve made everyone on the team relax this season and that played out to be a huge advantage for us.”

Coach Laspada said the team bonding and the genuine love for one another translated into a successful season.

“They are very kind and loving with one another and they want do well for each other,” he said. “They are very close friends who care about about each other and are willing to sacrifice for one another.”

 Laspada describes his team as kind and caring.

“These are ladies who would never wish the worst on anybody,” he said. “For example, at regionals they saw Kyra Walker from Coronado warming up by herself and my girls went over there and asked her to warm up with them. We all wanted her to do well. We are all an El Paso family.”

The Cougars have great class balance which bodes well for the future.

“Eva and Ally are our seniors and Ally just came in but she fit in perfectly with the other girls, just like a glove,” Laspada. “Jenna and Jordan are juniors, but they have been around and so has Alyssa.”

Laspada and Saunders have been friends since fourth grade and have since formed strong bonds with all the girls.

“It’s crazy that Ally, Alyssa, Jenna and Jordan are always together,” coach Laspada said. “If they do anything, it’s together.”

One of their favorite things to do is watching The Bachelorette or The Bachelor on Tuesday nights or Franklin football games on Friday night.

“We’ve been doing that since last year,” Alyssa Laspada said. “We call it Bachelor Night. We also have a lot of sleepovers, too.”

Franklin junior Jenna Saunders has been solid all year for the Cougars.

Saunders said that closeness is reflected in the way the team runs together.

“All the girls get along so well,” she said. “I don’t think we would be the same team if we weren’t this close. We run for each other. We love each other so much and we want what’s best for each other.”

Even in the bad times, Saunders said it’s almost best to have great friends to lift spirits up.

“We all have had bad races so we all understand that feeling,” she said. “We just need to make sure we all know that things happen and we’re there to support each other and to let them know it’s OK and it will be better next time.”

The 2020 season, although difficult, has been a rewarding one for Franklin.

“We didn’t know if we were going to have a season at all,” Saunders said. “One thing coach always tells us is, ‘run as if this were your last race’ because you really never know. To be able to run the whole season and to make it all the way to state is such a blessing.”

Franklin will try to make the most of their opportunity next Tuesday.

“We want to do really well and we’re going to try our best, that’s for sure,” Saunders said. “We are so lucky that we all stayed healthy, this is really exciting.”

Eastwood’s seniors form tight bond of brotherhood in the age of COVID-19

State Championship Previews

Today: Tornillo boys.

Thursday: San Elizario boys.

Friday: Eastwood boys.

Saturday: Franklin girls.

Sunday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Michael Mier; Americas junior Jared Laverty; Eastlake junior Israel David; Eastwood junior, Lauren Walls-Portillo and Montwood sophomore, Kassandra Jimenez. Class 5A – Burges junior, Pamela Ramirez; Jefferson junior, Monique Correa; El Paso High senior, Josep Ferret; Hanks sophomore, Alejandro Tarin; Chapin senior, Joaquin Ortega, Chapin. Class 4A – Riverside junior, Andrew Valdiviezo. Class 3A – Tornillo sophomore, Kylene Elias.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Monday, Nov. 23. All times (MDT): Class 3A girls, 10:45 a.m.; Class 3A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 5A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 5A boys, 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24: Class 4A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 6A boys, 2:15 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

Eastwood’s Victor Parra, Andres Gurrola and Victor Anchondo have provided much needed pack points for the Troopers this season.

Eastwood’s four seniors – Sergio Leon Cuartas, Aaron Perez, Nathan Hernandez and Victor Parra – epitomize what the Trooper’s cross country program is all about.

Their story is about four young men who believed in what they were doing, who sacrificed their own personal glory to work together as a team for one common goal.

And that common goal will surprise you.

It would be logical to assume winning a third straight UIL State Cross Country Championship would be goal No. 1.

But it’s not.

“The goal has changed since my freshman year,” Cuartes said. “The goal back then was to give my best effort in all my races and try to put my name out there. As you progress in the program, your mentality changes, your efforts are more for your team than yourself and wanting to do well for your brothers.”

Eastwood, the two-time defending Class 5A state champion, will race in the Class 6A division at 2:15 p.m. Tuesday.

The Troopers will be making its eighth state appearance in the past nine years.

“When we practice, we understand that we are preparing to be better as a team,” Cuartes said. “Running at Eastwood is not complicated at all, its just having fun and listening to your coach. There really isn’t that much to it. There is no reason to be obsessing over anything, just have fun and enjoy the journey.”

Cuartas was 17th at last year’s state meet finishing third on the team in 15:28.21.

Eastwood senior Sergio Leon Cuartas was 17th at last year’s state meet finishing third on the team in 15:28.21.

A trio of juniors – Isaac Mendoza, Nick Parra and Andres Gurrola – make up the rest of the seven.

The last time Eastwood raced in the Class 6A state meet was in 2017 when the team finished third.

“We are the underdogs,” said Eastwood coach Mike McLain. “I say it all the time and I’ll never stop saying it. These kids are doing things every year that they shouldn’t be doing.”

He is prouder of this year’s team because of the many challenges it had to face.

“If you were looking for an excuse not to work, this would be the year,” he said. “When the kids would run, they would have a bunch of ‘Karens’ yelling at them – ‘you’re killing people’ or ‘what are you guys doing?’ That’s a lot of stress the kids had to put up with. The kids had to work through all these amazing circumstances, how can I not be happy to be around them?”

He said the senior leadership helped the team along.

“In order to survive in our program, you have to care about your team,” McLain said. “These four seniors have overachieved. Remember, we began the year not even ranked. We weren’t even a bubble team. They committed themselves to each other, just like the teams did before them and the teams before them and the team before them.”

Like Cuartes, Hernandez has been running varsity for three years.

“My role is to be an example for the younger kids and to show them that even though times are tough right now, we still need to do what needs to get done even through this pandemic,” he said.

Eastwood senior Nathan Hernandez looks to improve on his state time of 15:31.10 with hopes a winning third state team championship.

Hernandez, who placed 20th at state last year (15:31.10) said it’s been a special four years.

“I’m going to miss those guys a lot,” he said. “It has always been the four of us since freshman year. For a lot of the meets our freshman year it would be Sergio, Victor and I going one-two-three in every race. As the years progressed, all four of us managed to make varsity together. We formed a brother pack together.”

Being able to run in an uncertain time due to the pandemic has brought the team closer.

“Our final season together means a lot more than when we started,” Hernandez said. “We grew up together. They motivate me to come to practice. I know they’ve always been there for me. It’s a good feeling knowing they are going to be there no matter what.”

Cuartes agrees.

“I couldn’t have chosen a better group of guys,” he said. “It’s been amazing to have developed a friendship with Victor, Nathan and Aaron. Having them around has made this experience that much better.”

Tornillo racing to state on “house money”

State Championship Previews

Today: Tornillo boys.

Thursday: San Elizario boys.

Friday: Eastwood boys.

Saturday: Franklin girls.

Sunday: Individual qualifiers. Class 6A – Americas senior Michael Mier; Americas junior Jared Laverty; Eastlake junior Israel David; Eastwood junior, Lauren Walls-Portillo and Montwood sophomore, Kassandra Jimenez. Class 5A – Burges junior, Pamela Ramirez; Jefferson junior, Monique Correa; El Paso High senior, Josep Ferret; Hanks sophomore, Alejandro Tarin; Chapin senior, Joaquin Ortega, Chapin. Class 4A – Riverside junior, Andrew Valdiviezo. Class 3A – Tornillo sophomore, Kylene Elias.

Make Plans

What: UIL State Cross Country Championship.

When:  Monday, Nov. 23. All times (MDT): Class 3A girls, 10:45 a.m.; Class 3A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 5A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 5A boys, 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 24: Class 4A boys, 11:30 a.m.; Class 6A girls, 1:30 p.m.; Class 6A boys, 2:15 p.m.

Where:  Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.

At Stake: State team and individual titles.

Tornillo senior Bryan Garcia and sophomore Angel Torres will be counted on heavily as the Coyotes try to improve in its 2019 third place state finish.

The fall of uncertainty has been difficult for everyone during the 2020 pandemic.

None more than for the Tornillo cross country team which has been in “survive and advance” mode for most of the season.

With not a lot of athletes to work with, the road back to Round Rock has not been easy for Tornillo.

A month ago, on Oct. 21, the Coyotes were all but done with the cross country season as an athlete came down with symptoms of COVID.

The athlete informed Tornillo coach Jesse Garcia and began self-isolation. Because she had close contact with both teams, the entire squad could have potentially been exposed so the teams also quarantined and had to train on their own.

However, the athlete did not get tested until several days later, resetting the 14-day quarantine.

With district less than 14 days away, it appeared the season was lost – another victim of COVID-19.

Eventually, it come down to some wheeling and dealing by Tornillo officials with the District 4-3A coaches and principals to have the district championship moved back three days to Saturday.

But it was still not a certainty that the Coyotes would be on a bus to Presidio.

“We still had to wait for test results,” Garcia said. “We still had kids who had not been cleared to travel. We got the final go-ahead at 3:30 p.m. that Friday, the day before district. We meet at the bus at 4 in the morning and drove to Presidio.”

Tornillo finished second at district and third at the Region 1-3A championship.

“All I can say is God is good,” Garcia said. “There is no other way to describe how we overcame the obstacles we faced just to reach this point. I told the kids to pray, pray, pray because at the end, God has the final word. If God wants us to run at district, it’s going to happen, no matter what the world is telling us.”

The Coyotes – seniors Bryan Garcia and Michael Maney, junior Bryan Guzman, sophomores Angel Torres, Eric Fuentes and freshmen Daniel Romero and Gael Garcia – are the 11th Tornillo team to advance to state in the past 12 years.

Tornillo earned bronzed at last year’s state championship and finished second in 2016 and 2017 – its two best finishes.

The Coyotes are balanced with the Romero, Torres, Bryan Garcia, Maney and Guzman leading the way.

Tornillo senior Michael Maney is the team’s inspirational leader. He is a three-year varsity runner.

“We’re a young team,” said Maney, who has run on the varsity for three years. “As a senior, I have taken on a leadership role to be an example for them. I remind them that I was a freshman, too, ‘been there, done that,’ so I know their struggles.”

Maney has been the inspirational leader the past two seasons.

“My team is like my family,” he said. “It would break my heart to see the family dynamics not working together. My role is to keep the family together, keep the dynamics going good and to make sure everything with the team is going smoothly.”

Garcia calls Maney the heart and soul of the team.

“He is full of life and has a great personality,” Garcia said. “Michael is the glue to this team. He is also one of the most consistent runners we have. He is the type of kid who always has a really good finish at the of the season so I firmly believe he is going to have a great race at state.”

One of the surprises for Tornillo has been the progression of the freshman – Daniel Romero, who finished fourth at regionals and second at district.

“This is his first season of cross country,” Garcia said. “He didn’t even run cross country in middle school. The middle school coach, coach Vega, told me this kid ran a 5:45 mile, without any training, and I should recruit him.”

Because of the COVID summer, Garcia did not have the opportunity to contact Romero.

“In early August, right around registration time, my assistant (coach Adrian Guerrero) saw him and told him he should try cross country,” Garcia said. “First thing he said was, ‘you have to talk to my dad, sir.’ He is a very humble young man. We gave him basic workouts, but I don’t know how much of it he was doing.”

Garcia told Romero when and where the first race was going to be, and he showed up.

Romero finished that race at Skyline Park in 19:09.98, exactly 2 minutes and 33 seconds behind Chapin senior Joaquin Ortega’s 16:36.25.

“It was just like that movie ‘McFarland’ when the boys ran their first race and they looked all funny when they were running – that’s the way he looked,” Garcia said. “He ended up being our fifth guy and we asked him how felt and he told my assistant that he could have gone faster. So we told him ‘OK, on the next one, try a little harder.’ The next race he was our fourth guy and the next race he was our third guy and he just kept building more and more strength and confidence.”

Tornillo freshman Daniel Romero is in the mist of his first cross country season ever. September was the first time Romero has lined up to compete.

The Tornillo boys feel they are racing on house money.

“It’s been a tough season,” Maney said. “We’ve all had bouts of doubt with what would happen next, not knowing if we were going to make it through the season. I would tell the guys we had to stay focused, to stay motivated. We had to remained them that we were still in this, the season is not over and try to work as hard as they can.”

Regardless of what happens on Monday, Garcia is grateful just to have a season.

“The expectation is always been the same – do our best and leaving nothing on the table,” he said of state. “We were given a second chance and we have to take it and go with it. We weren’t supposed to make it out of district- we weren’t supposed to even run at district – yet, here we are. We’re going to go out and do our best and represent our town with a big heart and run like it’s our last race.”

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.

Peterson.Jeffersonjpg
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.

Franklin-Sotelo
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.”

FranklinAlyssa
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.”