ROUND ROCK – The Palestine, Oakwood, Cayuga, Neches and Slocum cross country programs were all represented well at the UIL State Cross Country meet Saturday in Round Rock.
The Palestine Wildcats finished as the 12th best team in the 4A division with a score of 274 – 20 points in front of district rival Carthage. The Wildcats were led by junior Luis Rangel who finished as the area's top performer in his respective division. He made it a priority to finish inside the top-10 this year after coming close to his first two state qualifications (11th freshmen year, 13th sophomore year).
Rangel's time of 15:36.57 slotted him in sixth place amongst a field of 151 runners – a solid improvement from his 13th place finish last year.
According to head coach John Absalom, Rangel's finish was the best individual finish at the state meet for a Wildcat runner since 1985 when Roderick Jones finished second with a time of 16:23.
“He can be top-three next year,” Absalom said. “He ran great, but he wants a bigger medal. It starts with dedicating himself during the summer. He has to put it in next year.”
Behind him was senior Michael Guzman who placed 91st and increased his regional time from 17:41.20 to 17:02.59 at state – a personal record. Junior Michael Chaidez placed 97th (17:07.58), junior Garrett Bowden was 113th (17:30.76), sophomore Luis Castillo placed 117th (17:35.84), junior Raul Ramirez finished 145th (18:34.18) and senior Jonathan Sanchez rounded the group out with a time of 20:02.05.
Sanchez came into state less than 100 percent and had the opportunity to sit out the race in preparation for the soccer season. However, despite being hampered, he couldn't forfeit the opportunity to run at state in his last season.
Coach Absalom is optimistic about his core group of juniors and their ability to improve at state next year. They'll use another year of competing at the highest level to continue their upward trajectory.
“Regional and state are different from what you do throughout the year,” Absalom said. “It's overwhelming the speed and pace of the race. Those are the best in the state. Having that experience makes a difference.”
The Cayuga Ladycats finished 16th as a team overall. Freshman Aerin Thompson was their top performer placing 74th against a field of 151 runners. Thompson improved her regional time by nearly 30 seconds with a time of 13:29.77. Claire Drinkard, who placed 88th, ran her personal best of 13:40.63. Freshman Alexis Chambers placed 132nd (14:56.32), sophomore Isabelle Mills was 142nd (15:16.01), freshman Andria Thompson was 145th (15:36.92.)
Slocum senior Justin Neal was the lone 2A representative for Anderson County boys and competed well. Neal placed 27th overall and ran a time of 17:01, which was nearly 40 seconds better than his second-place time at regionals.
Oakwood's Ramon Chavez finished as the area's second-best performer in 1A. Chaves finished 45th overall with a time of 17:48.49.
Neches High School was the only Anderson County school to send a group of boy and girl runners to the state meet in Round Rock.
“They got to compete at the state level finally,” Neches coach Andy Snider said. “The commitment and perseverance [both] teams had paid off for them.
Neches' John Snider was the Tigers' best runner in 40th with an improved regional time of 17:43.48. Nathaniel Hammond finished 95th (18:51.58). Trevor Goodwin placed 98th (18:52.08), Caleb Davilla was 118th (19:43.63), Aaron Deckard was 130th (20:39), while Andrew Aguilera was 134th (21:04.23). The boys' final team placement was 14th overall.
Five of the six competing Tiger runners participated in their final high school cross country meet Saturday. And it experienced they were appreciative to take with them as the season ended.
“I told them to live in the moment,” Snider said. Enjoy the state meet. “For some of them, it was their last time competing [in high school cross country]. We're not promised tomorrow.”
The Lady Tigers placed 11th overall as a team with Kacie Kimbrough finishing 32nd overall in the girls 1A division. Kimbrough ran a time of 13:13.46. Oliva Wendell was the Lady Tigers' second-best runner in 55th (13:33.64). Lexi Rogers fell in behind them in 73rd (13:48.10).
Mallory Main placed 122nd, Emily Docteur trailed right behind her in 123rd, while Kinsley Gordon and Kailey Boaz placed 125th and 143rd, respectively.
The Lady Tigers will bring back their entire group next season. Being one of the younger teams at state, they had an opportunity to absorb the competition level as they look forward to another season.
“They know what it takes to get to this point,” Neches coach Andy Snider said. “They also know what more they have to put into it to get better.