It’s been a long, hard road for high school cross country teams across the state, not only navigating the courses, but of course, navigating uncertainties with COVID-19, like everyone else.
That road, one way or another, ends Tuesday for the Kilgore High School boys cross country team, who will compete in the University Interscholastic League’s state cross country meet at Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock.
Kilgore is a 4A program, and due to COVID, the UIL has broken the state meet down to two days. The odd-numbered classifications, 1A, 3A, and 5A, will all run Monday; the even-numbered, 2A, 4A, and 6A, will run Tuesday. Right now, if nothing changes, the Bulldogs will be a part of the boys 4A run set to begin Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.
Coaches Phillip Lane – head coach for 15 years – and Emanuel Ibanez met with the team before practice, discussing the trip.
“This has been a long time in the making, a lot of hard work,” Lane said – and not just referring to this season.
Lane credited longtime KHS teacher and coach Nina Mata for a history lesson, explaining how coach Amon Horton guided the Kilgore cross country team to the state meet in 1976, 1977, and 1978 – three consecutive seasons. The Bulldogs finished in places 10, eight and nine, respectively.
In the early 1980s, coach John Heffner and Charles Raby made the trip – Raby finished at 25 in a large field of runners.
There’s recent history, too: Lane coached Clayton Fletcher to the state meet in 2014, with Fletcher going on to run cross country in college. Kilgore’s girls team, then coached by Heidi Hagan, went and competed in Round Rock in 2017.
Two years ago, Cristina Rosas got back to state, beating out all but 22 runners of 147.
And then last year, Kilgore’s Zoe Craven and Emma Taylor, coached by current girls coach Todd BonDurant, represented the girls at the state meet, with Austin Bain running for Kilgore’s boys. Taylor wound up in spot 76, Craven 98, and Bain 65 in his run, with both girls and boys in a 151-runner field.
At regionals just over a week ago, on the campus of the University of Texas at Arlington, at the Jesse Owens Athletic Complex, Kilgore finished second as a team to earn their ticket to the state meet. Bain came in at 12 in the boys run, a 5K. He finished in the time of 16 minutes, 29.16 seconds. Teammate AB Herrera checked in at 17 (16:48.93). Yamir Sanchez crossed at 17:09.29, in place 23; Christopher May finished in 17:29.72 (32), Max Torres in 17:46.98 (38), Josue Rosas in 18:13.29 (61), and Zachery Gutierrez at 18:39.55 (74).
Kilgore will take 12 runners to Round Rock on Monday, and seven of them will compete in the meet. It’ll be different in some ways this year, with crowds normally gathered throughout the course as well-wishers, not as many this year, and no shuttle from the parking lot to the course.
But Ibanez pointed out that he will be at the half-mile mark, then in place again at the halfway point of the run.
For anyone planning to go, tickets will be sold by car and bought on-site with credit or debit card, no cash. Vehicles with one or two persons will be $25; cars with more than two will be $40. Tickets can be purchased in advance; go to uiltexas.org, then to the cross country site, and then hit the “state meet” link.
Fans can enter at 7:30 p.m. (the 2A girls begin the meet Tuesday morning at 9 a.m.), and must enter from U.S. 79. Face coverings are required.
See coverage of the meet in the News Herald, and online at kilgorenewsherald.com.