The Decatur Eagles cross country team will begin the season where they hope to finish it – No. 1.
The Eagles were picked as the top-ranked team in Class 3A in the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas’ preseason poll.
The Eagles, who return all seven runners from last year’s squad that finished fifth at the state meet in November, downplayed the August poll. Decatur opens the season Saturday at the Southlake 8-mile Relay at Oak Grove Park in Grapevine.
“We didn’t pay attention to the ranking,” said senior Daniel Smyers, who was 49th at state. “We’re focused on racing and the outcomes at the different meets instead of the rankings.”
Fellow senior Travis Kyle added: “It’s a good motivator to keep up the hard work we’ve been doing. We hope to keep what we’re doing and finish good.”
The Eagles know the No. 1 ranking will have the rest of the state gunning for them, including new District 9-3A rival Sanger. The Indians were ranked third in the preseason poll after finishing second at state last year. Sanger returns three runners.
“It puts a target on us, but it also drives us forward,” Kyle said. “We have to push harder to achieve our best.”
Decatur coach David Park addressed the ranking with his squad.
“It is what it is,” he said. “We can’t put our heads in the sand and pretend it’s not there. We treat it as a compliment and sign of respect.
“What it does is make our job harder. What your ranking is in August doesn’t matter. It’s what we do between August and the championship season that does matter.”
The Lady Eagles were not far behind the Eagles in the rankings. In the Class 3A girls poll, the young Decatur squad was second behind only the 2011 state runner-up, La Vernia.
Lady Eagles graduated four of their top seven runners from last year’s squad.
Sophomore Nicole Neighbors said she and the team are not putting a lot of weight into the ranking.
“Rankings are opinions,” she said. “We’ve got to stay focused. We were up there last year and never thought about it. We had to keep working hard to make our times.
Junior Morgan Haney added: “At state you never know what’s going to happen. This puts a target on us. People will look at Decatur ranked second. It puts pressure on us, and we have to step up.”
After a month of training, the ranked Eagles and Lady Eagles are ready to race against someone else even though the first event is an unconventional 4×2-mile relay.
“There’s not as much pressure at the relays, but it’s a chance to get out there and run,” Kyle said.
Haney added: “I’m excited to get the season started and get to the championship season. It’s so much fun to be with the team and run.”
Decatur will field a pair of varsity teams in the boys and girls races.
The boys will run Taylor Clayton, Kyle, Daniel Smyers and Brandon Rivera on the first team. The second team will include Austin Poole, Michael Smyers, Tyler Wilson and Joaquin Aldape.
For the girls, Georgina Palomo, Paola Palomo, Neighbors and Nancy Torres will be on the first relay. The second will include Haney, Jessi Kyle, Lluvia Ramos and Hope Fuller.
“The ultimate goal is to get a practice meet,” Park said about the relays. “It’s a chance to form good meet habits. Relays are meant to be fun.”
Decatur will be joined at the relays by Northwest. The Lady Texans were ranked No. 10 in the Class 5A preseason poll.
In Class 2A, the Alvord Lady Bulldogs were ranked No. 9.