The Northwest Lady Texans covered a lot of ground last year on their way to regionals and with two members running at the state meet.
This year, the Lady Texans will need to go even farther every time on the course.
After polling superintendents across the state, the University Interscholastic League changed the distance for girls cross country races in Class 5A and 4A from 3,200 meters to 5K – the same distance as boys currently run.
“It’s long overdue,” said Northwest cross country coach George Lutkenhaus. “The Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas has worked six or seven years to get it changed. It takes time.
“I’d like to have seen all classes make the change. But I’ve been at small schools before and cross country is used for different things. In another five or six years, I think we’ll all be at 5K.”
The added racing distance is welcomed by the talented Lady Texans.
“The longer we run, the stronger we get,” said junior Sydney Benes.
The veteran runners expect the added distance to impact results, especially at regionals and state. Teams in the past have been able to stretch out strong middle-distance runners to complete a two-mile course.
“It’s going to be an interesting new dynamic that we’re looking forward to,” said junior Kellee McCann. “This move will help people that are true distance runners. The two-mile was closer to middle distance.”
Lutkenhaus added: “Your aerobic monsters will now shine, and some of your 400- and 800-type kids are going to struggle with a 5K. It will definitely give your true distance kids an advantage.”
As far as training for the 5K, the Lady Texans will not change their workouts much. They already put in mileage exceeding the new, 3.1-mile distance.
“Each year, we stack more and more miles,” Lutkenhaus said. “We really prepared for it last year.”
The Lady Texans will change how they race. The varsity runners will limit their number of meets and not race every week at the 5K distance.
“It’ll be more a college format where you race sparingly,” said Lutkenhaus, who ran cross country at UNT. “Especially for the freshmen, who you are doubling their race distance, you can’t race eight weeks in a row. We’ll change kids in and out.”
McCann and the other veteran team members understand that approach.
“You have to be careful not to race too much this season,” McCann said.
The Lady Texans, who finished fifth last year at the Class 5A Region I meet, return their top three runners – McCann, Katherine Chavez and Taylor Bohr. The squad will also have some talented freshmen.
Northwest will once again battle against some of the state’s top teams to get out of district, including Southlake Carroll.
“We should be stronger than last year,” said sophomore Paighton Kelly.
McCann added: “We have some strong returners and good freshmen. If we can hang at district, we’ll be able to compete.”