Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eastwood Boys- State Contenders

I sit here with a lot of anticipation 2 days before the Region 1 Cross Country Championships at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock, Texas. For the first time since the 1986 season, my Eastwood Troopers have a very realistic shot at finishing in the top 3 and advancing to the State Meet the following weekend. Let me go back a bit in time here.

(the 84 EW squad with Coach Doug Littlejohn)

From 1983-1987 the Eastwood Boys Cross Country program was among the elite of Texas. The years I was a part of the team were 82-85. From 1983-85 we were ranked no worse than 7th in the State at any point. The highlight of this era was the 84 season which ended with a Regional Championship and the bronze medals at the State Championship. We had several younger runners (Henry Garcia and Tony Urrutia) on that squad who took that experience to keep that streak alive (after the graduation of Mike Montes and myself). Eastwood once again returned to the State meet and rankings for one last time in 86. That Garcia-led team surprised a bit, but I guess what surprised me the most was that is where it stopped. Eastwood had a handful of individuals (Eric Flores and Tony Simonnetti) who qualified to the State meet but the program fell into a period of mediocrity. It happens, success can be cyclical. That cycle started to end when my old friend and rival Mike McLain took over the Eastwood program in 2001. He took over a program that had fallen to only 2 girls and 5 boys on the entire roster. Mike built the program back into a power that is always going to be one to be reckoned with at the local level. Both boys and girls teams have had many Regional appearances since McLain took over. A lot of the attention locally has lately fallen on programs such as Austin and Jefferson. These schools have fielded some great programs, but we must remember Eastwood has had to contend with running in class 5-A.
The past couple years have been really building towards this season. There has been an influx of talent coming into the school, mix this with great coaching (lets not forget the great Coach Pearson) and the results are starting to show. I have been fortunate enough to get to know some of the kids who have been through the program in the past couple years. The most talented of all is recent graduate Juan Blanco (see my blog on Juan for more, Juan below at Region 1 last year in XC).

 There is no doubt that Juan's success at both the Regional and State level, and now in NCAA Division 1 at UTEP, has been a good influence on this years young team. Coming out of last years track season, I was expecting the front runners to be Elias Leija-Garza and Brian Casillas. They have been, but the big surprise has been Ryan Saenz who has developed into one of the cities best. These 3 have formed a power trio of sorts, running up front and pulling their teammates (Richard Mora, Steven Rios, Caleb Buntyn and Alex Blanco) closely behind them. While long distance running is largely an individual sport, that is not the case here. This is a team effort, to be successful you must pull your team with you. It looks like this trio has learned that lesson.
Eastwood is entering the week as the 7th ranked team in Texas according to the definitive source, Dyestat. They have the task of facing the States top ranked program, Southlake Carroll while in Lubbock. In Carroll, the Eastwood boys are having to face the same type of squad we did in 84 with the nations top team Conroe McCullough/The Woodlands. That team set a state meet record of 28 points that stands to this day. The Region 1 record of 29 points by the Mike McLain/David Medlin led Hanks squad in 86 is in serious jeopardy. Many experts have SL Carroll as the top ranked squad in the US. This is meant only to encourage the current EW boys. To be the best, you have to run with the best and this Saturday is your chance. There are 3 spots for the taking, I figure there are 5 squads (Carroll, Eastwood, Amarillo Tascosa, Lewisville Hebron and Marcus) in the hunt. Eastwood has already taken a great step confidence wise with wins over Tascosa and Hebron earlier this year. Hebron has perhaps the best 1-2 punch in the region in Kevin Hoyos and Robert Domanic, but falls off after the #3 runner. The EW top runners need to stay in contact, but most importantly, the 4-7 runners need to stay close to them. Believe you can do it Troopers, because you can. Run harder than you ever have before, run this race as if it's your last, so that it's not! If so, the picture below will not be the last one taken of this team getting some medals.

Best of luck to a deserving and talented team. Start a new Eastwood legacy.