WAXAHACHIE — Waxahachie High School wasn't the only Gingerbread City team to make cross country waves during last Friday's Waxahachie Woodhouse Invitational at Lakeview Camp and Retreat Center.
Out of the rain and mud of the race emerged Head Coach Daniel Dagen and the Life Waxahachie High School Mustangs, a UIL 4A program that moved up a level with a specific motive in mind.
"We wanted to beat Waxahachie," said Dagen, who has been a distance track coach since 2015 and accepted the head cross country position during the summer. "I'll admit, it was part of the motivation. The guys were excited for the opportunity to race them as well as see the outcome. In order to get better, you have to be challenged. Our top runners needed to be pushed."
The Mustang boys finished second behind only 6A cross country powerhouse Coppell High School and outpaced 5A Burleson Centennial and Waxahachie and 6A Mansfield High Schools in the top five.
Junior Samuel Rosales, the first Life Waxahachie distance specialist to cross the finish line, ran the race in 16:23.9. It was eight seconds and two places behind Waxahachie's Brandon Gilliland, the meet's No. 3 runner, and less than 20 behind Whit Dennis, Fort Worth Paschal High School's 6A meet champion.
Senior William Horton (14, 16:51.3), junior Nicholas Rosales (20, 17:00.4) and senior Nathan Roman-Valdez (39, 17:45.2) each finished inside of the top 40 of 118 runners. Senior Jacob Solis (45, 17:51.3) finished inside the top 50.
The Mustangs' final two runners, senior Wade Beeson and sophomore Kyle Scheer, finished in 18:24.9 (65) and 19:04.4 (80), respectively.
Dagen's Mustangs have been around since 2005 and have featured or currently featured notable runners like Sam Rosales, whose 16:23 finish set the school's 5K record last year, and 2016 graduate Jordan Barnes, Life Waxahachie's only state qualifier and a Texas A&M Commerce University pole vaulter.
Barnes' two-mile time of 12:15 is also a school record.
The 2017 team that scored 52 points total — 30 for the boys and 22 for the girls — in the 5A/6A varsity division during the Woodhouse Invitational may be within earshot of other Mustang greats.
"Our program has steadily improved each year as we have moved from 1A up to 4A in 12 years and our teams have consistently competed at the regional meet each year no matter the classification," Dagen said. "This group, though, has surpassed the others by their effort and dedication. This past summer, they logged 6,785 miles as a team and the top seven boys are currently [running] 70 to 80 miles per week."
Topping Waxahachie in the "crosstown rivalry" aside, the coach noted momentum built racing against prime and higher-level competition may help them make a splash during the 8 a.m. Wednesday Glen Rose Invitational at Buddy Stewart Park in Cleburne.
There is no time for resting on laurels or patting themselves on the back, Dagen chuckled.
Only the Glen Rose, Yellow Jacket and McNeil Invitationals and the Metroplex Challenge separate Life Waxahachie from the district meet.
"I'm impressed with their second place finish," Dagen said. "Considering the mileage they have been running, I wasn't necessarily surprised. Their performances — namely nearly beating Coppell — showed their readiness to compete at the 4A level. Though it gave us confidence going forward, we know our competition will be tough at regionals as we work to make it to state."
Marcus S. Marion is the sports editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror. He can be reached by phone at (469) 517-1456 or across social media platforms @MarcusSMarion.