After a regional championship and a third-place finish at the state meet last November, the Paradise Lady Panthers have picked up right where they left off in 2012.
Paradise opened the season ranked in the top 10 of the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas state poll.
Soon after, they vaulted to the top spot in Class 2A, before dropping to No. 7 in the latest edition.
“We’ve been pushing ourselves, and we’ve been excelling – especially on hard courses,” senior Makala Neighbors said. “We haven’t won every meet like at times last year, but we’ve been going up against tougher competition.”
Through hard work and determination the Lady Panthers are ready to embark on another run through the postseason. They only lost one senior off last year’s state medal-winning squad.
Their district meet is coming up Monday in Alvord.
“Everybody has dropped their times over the last four weeks,” Paradise coach Karin Essig said. “We have a difficult district, but our kids focus on one meet at a time. They are excited about Monday and are ready to run.”
Paradise turned in their best times of the year in their final tune-up before district at the Brock meet Oct. 9. All seven runners finished in the top 20 and six finished under 13 minutes.
Aliyah Read led the way, as she has most of the year, with a fourth-place finish in 12:28. She has shown dramatic improvement since finishing 92nd at state last season.
“Aliyah is a good pacesetter and she has been able to get her time down every week,” Essig said. “She’s running first for us right now and has a lot of people pushing her.”
District is just the first step in the long-term goals for the Lady Panthers. They made their first state appearance since 1999 last year.
Winning bronze has pushed them even harder to make a run for the gold in 2013.
“We see our potential, so we are pushing and making our standards higher for our team and what we want,” senior Angela Powers said. “We’ve all been running faster times and competing at tougher meets so we can prepare ourselves physically and mentally.”
The Lady Panthers aren’t overlooked anymore. They’ve held a top-10 ranking the entire year and have taken pride in that, especially when the were at No. 1.
“The kids have talked about it a lot,” Essig said about the ranking. “When they were No. 1 they wanted to hold on to it. They want to win it all and they come every day to work.
“They know they need their best times and are willing to put in whatever it takes to get it.”
The respect from their opponents is there, but the Lady Panthers want to follow that up with more postseason glory. A state championship has been in their sights since the beginning of August.
That journey starts Monday.
“People realize that we finished third in state and that we did something,” Neighbors said. “We’ve come together as a team, and we want to build on what we did last year.”