Cross country coaches planning for short seasons

Cross country competitions began this week for Class 1A through 4A programs in Texas, but teams in the East Valley haven’t had a chance to practice together.

With fall sports start dates still one month away, some programs continue waiting for dates and plans regarding district meets to be settled, but others have meets penciled in. Coaches and runners will be battling a short prep time before the Oct. 31 district certification deadline for all classes.

Additionally, the UIL reduced the number of qualifiers advancing to regional and state meets by one team. The top two teams in the boys and girls divisions at each district meet will move on to regional competition Nov. 9-10, along with the top 10 individuals. The top three teams and top 10 individuals not on a qualifying team will advance to the state meet Nov. 23-24.

A maximum of eight teams, with no more than 10 boys and 10 girls, will be allowed at individual meets. Two additional teams can participate if they bring no more than three runners. Larger districts can exceed team limits for district meets. Only one level of competitors (varsity, JV or freshmen) will be allowed at a race site at any given time.

“It’s going to be a very different season, if we have one. Hopefully we do so the kids can compete. And for the safety of everyone, hopefully we can get control over COVID because it has been scary,” Brownsville Porter coach Jose Espitia said.

The District 32-6A meet is scheduled for Oct. 30 and will be held at San Benito. Harlingen South coach Ralph De La Rosa said the Harlingen CISD meet will be Oct. 17, but the location is still to be determined. The Hawks are scheduled to compete in three meets before district, including the Brownsville ISD meet on Oct. 24.

Espitia said Porter is set to run in the BISD meet at the Brownsville encampment. The District 32-5A meet will be held Oct. 29 at the livestock show grounds in Mercedes, with Weslaco East serving as the host. Porter is anticipating having meets Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 as well, likely in the upper Rio Grande Valley.

“The plan is for those to be varsity meets on the weekend, and maybe on Monday have the JV and freshmen (compete),” Espitia said.

Espitia, who coaches the Cowboys soccer team, was named the Porter cross country coach Wednesday. He’s facing a unique challenge taking over a program that graduated a majority of its athletes while dealing with the complications from the COVID-19 pandemic, but he’ll have help from his soccer players.

“Right now I don’t even know who the boys will be, but I believe we have four girls (returning),” Espitia said. “But I have that advantage that I know some of my soccer players have that ability and … they volunteered to (run cross country). It’s going to be their base conditioning for soccer season, and it can develop their mental toughness that you get through cross country and competing against yourself.”

Coach Sonia White said a lot is “still up in the air” regarding the Santa Maria season. Realignment put Santa Maria in a very spread out district, and White said the athletic directors are still working out when, and especially where, the District 32-2A meet will be held.

White said she and Lyford coach David Lopez have each other’s programs penciled in for the month of October for potential competitions, since most local meets are being hosted by larger schools and the team limits are causing complications for small schools. Her focus for now is on ensuring her athletes are getting their miles in but not pushing too hard since competition won’t commence until October.

“What I’ve been doing is sending them a calendar with workouts they can do daily, and I try to have a phone call (weekly) with them,” White said. “It’s hard because we don’t see the kids, so we can’t see how they feel or what’s going on, if they’re running on pace and all that. It’s been hard to gauge where the kids will be by the time we meet up with them and then have district two meets later.”

Coach Roy Vega said Lasara will be hosting two meets this season. The 5th annual Lion Pride XC Invitational will be Oct. 24 for high school and middle school competitors, with separate divisions for large (5A-6A) and small (1A-4A) schools. The Lions will play host to the District 32-1A competition Oct. 28.