Some of the names and faces may have changed, but 12 months later, the destination remains the same for the Salado boys and girls cross country teams.
The Eagles and Lady Eagles once again will soar into the state cross country meet in at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock this weekend after both teams won the Class 5A, Region I meet.
“From the very first meet, we prepare for the meet and we treat it just like the state meet,” girls coach Cindy Mewhinney said.
The Lady Eagles came into the season looking to replace three members of the team that graduated while the Eagles looked for a major overhaul with the top six runners graduated from the 2012 team.
The boys also came into the season with a new coach.
“It took them a month or two when we got to our first meet to where they felt comfortable with each other,” Salado boys coach Michael Goos said. “I think since then they’ve really pushed each other. I think they all have a mutual respect for each other.”
The Salado girls won the regional title with 62 points, posting an average time of 1:05.01. Hawkins came in second with 107 points and an average time of 1:06.50.
The girls are captained by senior Ashley Adams, who will be running her final high school race Saturday.
“It’s really emotional,” Adams said. “I’ve been tearing up at district and regionals. I love this team and I have gotten so close to these girls over the last four years.”
The Eagles had a closer challenge at the regional meet. Salado finished with 122 points and an average time of 1:31.46, beating out Bruceville-Eddy which had 141 points and 1:30.53.
Senior Beto Rocha served as a veteran presence on the young Salado boys squad and said the meet’s timing was ideal.
Rocha has been fighting the flu this week after coming down with the illness the day after the regional meet.
“I would have been so angry if it (regional meet) would have happened a day later or if I had gotten sick a couple of hours earlier,” Rocha said. “I would have been so mad.”
Nicholas Everett was the last Salado boy to win an individual state title when he posted a time of 16:23.8 to win the 2003 Class 2A boys individual championship.
The girls Class 2A race begins at 9:50 a.m. while the boys start 20 minutes later.
Pena goes extra mile, lands in Round Rock
For Florence junior Alfredo Pena, there was no such thing as a daily workout. Instead, his fall days turned into daily workouts.
After going through morning practice with the Buffalo cross country team, Pena ran some more in the afternoon without being asked to and his hard work helped him qualify for the state cross country meet.
“It was exciting,” Pena said about qualifying for state. “After everything that I’ve done, it was amazing.”
Pena will represent Florence as an individual at the state meet. The boys Class 2A race begins at 10:10 a.m. Saturday.
Pena qualified after finishing fifth at the regional meet with a time of 17:12.
For Florence coach Larry McCarroll, Pena is enjoying the fruits of his labor with a chance to compete for a state title for the Buffaloes.
“He’s got a work ethic like no one I’ve worked with before,” McCarroll said. “He’s dedicated, he’s always here on time and he’s always here for every workout.”
Slowing down isn’t something Pena is interested in doing on the running trail or off it. In addition to running for the cross country team, Pena is also the kicker on the Buffaloes football team, will play guard for the boys basketball team and plans on finishing the academic year by running track.
Pena is the first Florence state qualifier since Thomas Berg in 2011.
“It’s going to be a tough race,” Pena said. “There’s a lot of good runners, but I think I can pull off a good time.”
Hennessy to compete for Gatesville
For Gatesville junior Abate Hennessy, the extra year was worth the wait.
After things looked to be in his favor to make it to state as a sophomore last season, Hennessy finally broke through in this season’s regional meet and will represent Gatesville in Round Rock on Saturday.
“Last year, he saw his potential and he wasn’t going to let it go this year,” Gatesville coach Katie Kelley said.
The Class 3A boys race begins at 11:10 a.m. Hennessy will look to give Gatesville its first state cross country champion.
The junior couldn’t have picked a better time to hit his stride than the regional meet.
“He’s been running so super strong the last four weeks and I thought he had an excellent chance,” Kelley said. “He went out, ran a good race and did it.”