San Eli building a running culture in the Cotton Valley; seeks 5th straight state title

The San Elizario boys are seeking it’s fifth consecutive Class 4A State Championship. The boys have won five straight invitationals to start the season, with sophomore Edwin Gomez (far left) winning four of five meets.

The San Elizario boy’s cross country team is still searching for the right combination, the perfect seven, to get them their fifth consecutive Class 4A state championship.

And it’s just not at the varsity level.

Even the junior varsity times matter.

“I don’t have my top seven set yet when it comes to who I’m taking to regionals,” said Cesar Morales, San Elizario’s head coach. “I have two candidates on my JV team that could probably move up to varsity and the varsity team knows that. The way we look at it, we don’t run varsity or JV meets, we run for times. It’s a very healthy competition within our team and they support each other. They’re giving it their all and I’m very proud of that.”

The District 3-4A Championship is Oct. 12 at the Chamizal National Memorial Park, followed by the Region 4A Meet Oct. 22 at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock and the State Cross Championship Nov. 3 at Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock.

The Eagles, which are ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 4A by the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas and No. 3 in the city by El Paso Running, will travel to The Woodlands for the Nike South Invitational Saturday.

San Elizario has won five straight invitationals to start the season, with sophomore Edwin Gomez winning four of five meets.

Irvin Vasquez (580) and Tony Diaz (575) have been consistent runners for San Elizario this season. They will be counted on as the championship season draws near.

The base of San Elizario’s team includes Gomez, Seth Rodriquez, Martin Pargas, Dilan Sanchez, Irvin Vasquez, and Tony Diaz.

Junior Rene Arambula, who finished second at the 2017 Region 1-4A Championship and fifth at State, is recovering from an injury. He ran his first race of the season in the Open Division at the Franklin Invitational.

He too is looking to regain his 2017 form and help the Eagles to five state championships in a row.

“Every year we graduate some quality runners, our best runners, so it’s always a mystery trying to figure out who is going to come up and how they are going to hold up,” Morales said. “Even Edwin and my top three runners, you never know what’s going to happen with them and the injuries they might have during the season.”

Morales said the success of the program over the past six years is a credit to the work ethic of the San Elizario community and the culture that has been built around the cross country team.

“Other coaches ask me if there’s a secret to what we are doing,” he said. “I wish there was but there really isn’t. It’s just kids who are willing to work and give their 100 percent every day. They are smart about what they do and they are committed to the workout and that’s all any coach could ask for.”

Gomez, who won the UIL Class 4A country state title in 15:36.16 as a freshman, agrees with Morales.

“I’ve been running since I was in the fourth grade, that’s when my brother told me about how good the high school team was,” he said. “When I was in the sixth grade, that’s when they started winning state championships.  It was then when I thought to myself that I wanted to win one, too.”

Seth Rodriguez has been San Elizario’s No. 2 man all season. He has a power ranking of 26, 10th highest in the city.

Gomez said there really is a running culture in San Elizario.

“The kids at the middle school look forward to running cross country when they get to high school,” he said. “The middle school kids work hard and look up to the high school runners. That’s how they get inspired to keep on working to be able to run for a state championship one day.”

With the district, regional and state meets looming in the next month, Morales said the team’s focus is to improve with every meet.

“When it comes to the state title, we try not to think about it,” he said. “We never talk about state championships. We do talk about getting better and improving our times. I’ve told them I don’t care if we win state, all I want from them is to improve their times and for them to give me their best every day, be respectful to the workout and to the team.”