Cross country running may not be as popular a sport as football, baseball, basketball and volleyball are, but for those who compete in it it’s much more than a sport – it’s a way of life. So much so that while most high school students spend their summer vacations doing things like hanging out with their friends and going to the beach, cross country runners spend their summers running and training in preparation for their upcoming season.
That dedication and devotion to the sport paid off for many local runners at Saturday’s District 30-6A CC championship meet held at Palmview High School (PHS). None more-so than two Palmview High School runners, Natali Gonzalez and Eliseo Rodriguez, who bettered the girls’ and the boys’ fields respectively to claim both individual district championships for the Lobos.
The fact that Gonzalez and Rodriguez are cousins means that distance running literally runs in their family. Having her cousin win his first district championship the same day she won hers had Gonzalez smiling from ear-to-ear as she did her best to express her feelings.
“Oh my gosh, it feels amazing,” shared Gonzalez. “I was so close my freshman year but they passed me at the end. Now three years later in my senior year to finally win the district championship feels amazing. I’m so proud of my team and of myself. We all did amazing.”
In regards to the dual family championship Gonzalez said, “It’s amazing! I didn’t expect it and he didn’t expect it. Since we’re cousins I guess it runs in the family. He might be annoying sometimes but I still love him.”
Gonzalez, who ran the 5k course in a time of 19:27:59, was just one of four PHS girls who finished among the top 10. The others were Naila Flores, Briana Robles and Mia Hinojosa who placed second, third and eighth respectively. Other top 10 girls’ finishers included Aminta Michelle Flores (4th) and Valerie Flores of Mission High School (MHS) and Yareli Tamez of Juarez-Lincoln High School (JLHS).
Rodriguez’s time of 16:22:18 was 18 seconds faster than the second place finisher Florentino Castillo of JLHS. Other top 10 finishers in the boys’ division were Mischel Lara (3rd), Martin Baez (5th) and Jorge Santoyo (8th) of JLHS, Victor Bocanegra (4th), Jesus Jaime (6th) and Tristen Robles (7th) of PHS, Jorge Perez (9th) of MHS and Joey Martinez (10th) of LJHS.
n total, the three La Joya high schools had nine of the top 10 boys and five of the top 10 girls finishers. The top 10 finishers in both divisions qualified for the regional meet which will be taking place Saturday Nov. 1 in San Antonio.
As for the top finishers among the boys teams, JLHS ran away with the district championship with a score of 32, PHS placed second with a score of 44 and MHS tied with Nikki Rowe for third with a score of 110. However the third place tie was broken in favor of MHS due to the fact that their sixth runner finished ahead of Rowe’s sixth runner. With only the top three teams qualifying for the regional meet, MHS qualified as a result of the tie-breaker.
Among the girls’ teams, PHS took the district title with a score of 33, Nikki Rowe took second with a score of 68 and MHS took third with a score of 73. As a result those are the three teams that have qualified for the regional meet.
As the Lobos’ boys and girls CC coach, Claudia Bazan saw both of her teams finish where they were expected to finish Saturday. Even so, she expressed disappointment in the fact that her boys fell short of claiming a district title.
“As far as the girls are concerned we were favored coming into this meet but like I told the kids, ‘Anything can happen in a cross country race,’” said Bazan. “We worked on gaps to make sure that they stayed together. Overall they performed well and we were able to walk away with a title today.”
“As for the boys we were predicted to come in second and that’s where we ended up today,” added Bazan. “The kids are a little disappointed. They’ve been working extremely hard during the past five months of training so they leave today with a little bit of disappointment but we have another race and hopefully we’ll be able to iron things out over there.”
In regards to her two individual district champions Bazan said, “Natali has been running well this season. Her time was not her personal best but overall we were pleased with her performance. Eli Rodriguez, the boys’ champion, is just a sophomore but he gained some experience by running varsity last year. He hadn’t won any big meets this year but he came through today with a great performance.”