Two and a half months of training and hundreds — maybe even thousands of miles — paid off for the Waxahachie cross country teams Thursday evening.
In what is sure to be one of the hottest meets of the season, the varsity Lady Indians dominated the field while the Indians had three top-50 finishers. Alyson Moore also began the season with a new program record.
The work for the Tribe began the week after graduation at the end of May, head coach Edward De la Cruz said. He explained those 7 a.m. voluntary summer workouts five days a week are designed to help promote year-around running and estimated about 30-40 kids attended, ranging from junior high to returning varsity runners.
Among the group of dedicated runners, were the reigning District 10-5A champion Lady Indians.
Emma Curry, Alyson Moore, Emily Mackel, Cathryn Bigham and Izabella Curiel all return from last year’s team, which won the first-ever district championship in program history. Bailey Jennings was the lone Lady Indian lost to graduation.
De La Cruz said he is “very excited” for the opportunities that lay ahead of the Lady Indians this season.
“Don't get me wrong, it is tough when you move up to 6A because now you are having a different level of runners. All of our girls are moving forward, and they are all progressing, and it is not just the returners because we have another two or three girls who are running well as freshmen," he said. "We still have a ways to go to go develop the program into a Flower Mound Marcus or Southlake Carroll type of program, but we are pretty good. I'm pretty excited, and I think the girls are pretty excited.”
The girls began their run at a second consecutive district title Thursday in Cedar Hill with a first-place team finish. Their 24 points, which easily defeated second-place Duncanville (60), was highlighted by all seven Lady Indians finishing in the top-25.
Leading the way was Alyson Moore (1st, 12:05.21), Emily Mackel (2nd, 12:18.41) and Emma Curry (3rd, 12:46.05). Moore set a new program record in the two-mile race with her time.
Before the meet on Friday afternoon, De la Cruz was quick to admit that any of the three had a legitimate chance to break the two-mile record.
“There are days when Emily beats them. There are days when Allison beats them, and there are days when Emma beats them,” he said. “[...] I won’t try and predict who will win because I want all three to go out and challenge it but I think all three have a chance to break the record. It won’t be easy.”
He noted the record was initially set when girls’ cross country strictly ran the two-mile race, not the 5k like is ran during 5A and 6A meets now. The original record was also set by Elizabeth Martinez during the morning when it was much cooler than the 97 degrees with a heat index well over 100 that the girls faced at the starting line Friday.
“If they all three break it or even just one of them breaks it, it will be pretty impressive to do in the heat,” De la Cruz added.
The remaining four members of the varsity Lady Indians are not to be shortchanged, either — especially after their efforts Friday.
Cori Morgan finished 10th with a time of 13:16.46, and was followed by Cathryn Bigham (16th, 13:44.68), Charley Hearron (21st, 14:00.31) and Mariel Camargo (22nd, 14:07.15).
“I think they are good enough that if things happen correctly as a team that they will be fighting to go to state," De la Cruz said. "Now, with that being said, it wouldn't shock me if we ended up anywhere between 13th at regionals to fourth or third or higher. I am not going to put boundaries around them because I know they are capable of so much. It is 6A, and it is tougher, but our expectation is to make state as a team.”
Individually, De La Cruz noted Curry, Moore and Mackel are all three running exceptionally well together and regularly pace each other. “They all three have a chance to go to state individually, too.”
The Indians return three runners — Sam Molina, Josh King and Josh Manning — from last year’s team that De la Cruz said was “one of the best teams in the state” after a sixth-place finish in a stacked regional race. This year, though, the Indians will be without four of their top six runners from one year ago.
Waxahachie will benefit from the services of Julius Luna, who transferred over the summer from South Grand Prairie and slots in near the top of the Indians’ times.
The Indians finished 11th Friday in Cedar Hill with 229 points.
Luna was the top Indian runner. He finished eighth with a time of 10:28.10. Molina (40th), Lucas Brandt (47th), Eric Dyke (62nd), Jayce Glenn (72nd), Lucas Molina (74th) and Dakoda Moreno (75th) rounded out the boys' finishes.
“Our expectation is always going to be to have the mindset to reach state, but we are also going to have the mindset to progress each week and move forward," De la Cruz said. "Right now we are just trying to see where we are as a team. This week and next week is going to be pretty important to give us an idea of what we have and what we need to do to make sure that we have an opportunity to do well as a team.”
Both teams will be back in action Saturday for the annual Robert Woodhouse Invitational at Lakeview Camp. The meet and its namesake hold a special place with De la Cruz, too.
De la Cruz was named the head coach for both the boys' and girls' programs just before the end of the school year, taking over the Lady Indians program from first-year head football coach Todd Alexander.
He said it is an honor to lead both teams, just as his coach, Robert Woodhouse, did for so many years.
“I'm really excited. It is been my dream to take over both programs and is really a blessing, to be honest," De la Cruz added. "It is good to be able to take over the same programs that my coach had and knowing that what he did I have the opportunity to continue to do.”
Jackson Almon, a 2009 Waxahachie graduate, joins the staff as an assistant coach after spending the last few years at Ferris as a varsity girls' soccer and cross country coach.
Texas Milesplit will broadcast Saturday's meet, which will include post-race interviews and full results.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith