It's been a bit since I last really wrote here (other than the little Dyestat blurb). Since then I made it out to watch the NCAA Midwest Regional in XC as well as the Pre Classic at Hayward Field, but I will pick back up where I left off. El Paso Eastwood Cross Country. Last season was a huge breakthrough as they returned to the State Meet for the first time since the 1986 season. 2011 was a season that resulted in a Region 1 2nd place, TX State 6th and NXN South 8th. Pretty impressive, coupling that with the bulk of the team coming back has raised expectations.
These young men have not disappointed. Ryan Saenz has stepped up to really take the reigns of this team. So far he is undefeated to any El Paso runner. Brian Casillas (the top El Pasoan at State last year) has been right there with him every step of the way giving Eastwood that potent 1-2 punch up front that any championship caliber team needs. Richard Mora and Steven Rios back them right up at a level that would put these two as the top two on most any other quality team. Returning State qualifier Caleb Buntyn, super soph Jose Silva and newcomer Steven Wallace round out what may be El Paso's best overall squad in many years. The team is currently undefeated with a big win over Del Rio in the Gold Seeded Race at the McNeil Invitational on the state course in Round Rock.
There are a couple factors that make this version of Eastwood Cross Country different than our State Bronze medalists squad of 1984. First and foremost, there is an overall culture change that extends to all levels of runners now. In the State ranked years of 1983-1987, we were always one injury or two from being in big trouble. Fortunately this never happened but outside of the top 7 each of those years there wasn't much depth. This year, Eastwoods JV is, in all reality, the 2nd best Varsity in the city! After winning the prestigious McNeil Invite in Round Rock, Coach McLain rested his top 7 for the El Paso City-Wide meet at the Chamizal. His JV, running as the varsity, defeated every El Paso team that day. The same JV also finished 3rd as a Varsity squad in the unseeded Varsity race at McNeil. Only a complete culture change could yield those type of results. In most other cities in Texas, they would compete week in and week out as Eastwood "B" in the varsity division as you see from perennial state powers like Southlake Carroll or The Woodlands. SLC's "B" or "Varsity 2" squad has run alongside the top 7 in such big meets as the Chile Pepper Invitational (Arkansas) and Marcus 1 (Lewisville,TX). The Athletic Director's office in the YISD (Ysleta Independent School District) will not allow this. Also, the top squads in the state travel more to compete. SLC has taken squads to Chile Pepper (AR), Nike South in Houston as well as meets in Kingsville, TX. All significant distances to travel to face competition. The YISD will only allow the programs in the district one out of town (requiring a stay) meet per year. Makes it quite a bit harder for the squad to face the level of competition they must to continue to grow. Ideally, Eastwood could use this to their advantage. Run McNeil or Nike South and then take advantage of El Paso's proximity to New Mexico and run one of the big Invites in Albuquerque against such national powerhouses like Rio Rancho Cleveland (NM) and Los Alamos (NM).Why this is, I don't know. Even if it comes down to dollars and cents I have been informed this even applies if the team funds their own way. Not the best decision by YISD and certainly not one that is good for the athletes. As I said last year, to be the best, you have to run and compete with the best.
Looking ahead to the Region 1 Meet in Lubbock the task will still not be easy. Southlake Carroll is fielding another "A" squad that will challenge CBA (NJ) and North Central (WA) for the National title. Lewisville Hebron is relatively the same as last year, very potent at the very top but then a drop in their mid pack. Lewisville Flower Mound and Marcus are both much improved. Marcus is running with similar 1-5 splits as Eastwood. Flower Mound and Marcus both have top runners in Wesley Ward and Logan Hendrix but neither school matches the 1-2 of Saenz and Casillas. They key will be for EW to pack their top 2 close to each of these schools top guy. If that happens Eastwoods depth and a tight 1-5 split should get the Troopers a return trip to Round Rock. It is now time to ignore "Polls" and rankings. Respect must be earned over 3.1 miles starting in El Paso, Lubbock, Round Rock and NXN South. To the Varsity "B" ( a squad this good can't be referred to as JV) a good year awaits as you guys join Casillas and Silva to keep the dynasty growing and developing. Regardless of what happens here on out, you guys are worthy of being considered the best overall program the East side of El Paso has seen in some time. Go get em Troop!
In the coming weeks, IL XC awaits. I hope to get out to the Niles West Sectional (IL equivalent of Tx's Regional) to watch National Power Elmhurst York run as well as getting out to see the one and only Lukas Verzbicas speak on his recent life changing accident.
Lukas Verzbicas speaks
It is worth noting after my last entry that Dyestat has returned. They are now Dyetrack.com and have been re-added to my links bar.