On a soupy July morning as the sun rises in the east, the Lady Eagles pound the pavement climbing the hill in front of Decatur High School. As sweat beads with every step, the cool mornings of the fall seem forever away.
But it’s these summer miles they hope will pay off with fall smiles – and a state title in November.
“There’s a lot of us that really want it,” said Decatur senior Nicole Neighbors. “We have to put our best forward in practice.”
Like the Lady Eagles, the finish line for all teams is Round Rock in November. Here’s a preview of the Wise County girls squads as they begin workouts toward that goal:
TRYING FOR NEXT STEP
The Decatur Lady Eagles ended a string of two straight third-place finishes in Class 3A last year, taking second at College Station. Now, they are gunning for the top spot in the new Class 4A with several of their top runners back.
“Going on the medal stand all three years, we are this close to first,” Neighbors said, holding up her thumb and index finger an inch apart.
The team graduated two of their top five from the state meet last year – Haley Dennard and Morgan Haney. Neighbors, Jessica Kyle, Nancy Torres and Georgina and Paola Palomo are back from last year’s state squad.
Because of last year’s success and the returning runners, Decatur coach David Park compares the Lady Eagles to his boys team in 2012 that captured the title.
“Like the boys in ’12, they believe this is our turn. They came close and have five of the seven back,” Park said.
But Park and Torres point out the team has a lot of depth outside the five returners.
“I’m excited to see what’s in store for us with the new runners,” Torres said. “We have a lot of potential with the new runners.”
Park has told the team that no spots are guaranteed.
Decatur heads to a new district and region this year. The Lady Eagles will be in 8-4A with Bridgeport, Springtown, Lake Worth and Castleberry in Region I.
Bridgeport coach Dayna Hudson said she is looking forward to competing in the new league. She returns her top runner from last year Diana Garcia, who took 18th at district in 13:25. She is also looking for a strong sophomore campaign from Naomi Baca.
The Northwest Lady Texans graduated their lone state finalist, Kellee McCann, but return a promising group – Cassidy Adams, Baylee Nelson, Rebecca Christman and Katherine Chavez.
Adams and Nelson are coming off solid springs. Adams advanced to regionals in the 3,200, and Nelson was a region finalist in the 800.
“Both are getting a lot of college looks after their track seasons,” said Northwest coach George Lutkenhaus. “With Cassidy, I’ve never seen anyone improve so fast. She went from a 2:37 in the 800 to 2:27. In the 1,600, she went from 5:40 to 5:18.”
Chavez, a state qualifier as a freshman and sophomore, will be looking to regain form.
LOOKING TO ADD TO TRADITION
After a pair of top-five finishes at the state meet, the Paradise Lady Panthers are looking to add another chapter to their growing cross country tradition.
The momentum from the past two seasons has carried into the summer, said coach Karin Essig.
“From the kids that have been there to the kids moving up wanting to go, it makes them work harder,” Essig said. “The kids ran a lot over the summer and are ready to go.”
Paradise returns five runners from its state team – Aliyah Read, Taylor Richards, April Coursey, Emily Brinson and Kaylee McConnell. Brinson finished 36th at state last year in 12:47. Read ran 12:54, taking 41st.
Paradise moves into District 9-3A with Boyd, Bowie, Holliday, Jacksboro, Nocona and City View. Holliday finished second in 2A last year.
“It’ll be good competition,” Essig said.
Boyd graduated its lone region participant – Jessica Colbert. Coach Oscar Hernandez said his girls squad will be young.
In the new 2A, Alvord returns several members of its regional team from last year, including Clara Breashears and Brooklyn Mitchum. But the Lady Bulldogs will be without state qualifer Lacey Watkins, who is recovering from a knee injury.
Slidell returns everyone from its regional team and is adding Kayson Roof, a state qualifier in track. Slidell coach Cody Vanover is encouraged by the team’s depth with state track qualifiers – Roof and Caitlin Pruett – along with Kayleigh Miller, Makayla Fitzgerald, Kylie Franklin and Kayler Talamantes.