By TONY EIERDAM
Although it is not “old hat” for the Mineral Wells High School cross country teams to compete at the regional meet, the teams, qualifying for the meet for the second year in a row, are looking at more than just making it out of district.
The Class 3A, Region I cross country meet will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock. The girls’ race will start at 11 a.m. followed by the boys’ race at 11:30 a.m.
The top three teams and top 10 individuals qualify for the state meet in Round Rock.
But also note additional individuals will not be moved into the top 10 qualifiers if any of the first 10 qualifiers are also on a qualifying team.
For the second year in a row, the Lady Rams will come to the regional meet as District 6-3A champions.
Also for the second straight year the Lady Rams will have the 6-3A champion running at the meet, Karessa Fowler, a junior who won the meet as a sophomore. Classmate Alex Pearcy placed second behind Fowler this year and in 2012.
The pair, along with returning regional qualifiers Katlyn Rivera, Natalie Ragland and Taylor Otwell and first-time regional qualifier Yesenia Martinez give the Lady Rams a good chance to qualify for the state meet.
Fowler said she will not stray from her strategy that helped her defend her district championship despite a course that features a huge hill at the beginning of the race.
“The course is a little bit more harder and there are more hills then we are used to,” Fowler said. “My strategy will be to get out in front and stay ahead of the group.
“But that is my usual strategy for all races. It feels good to get back to the regional meet as a team.
“We can all be together and all strive for the same goal of advancing to the stet meet.”
Pearcy said she will also “dance with who brung her” at the regional meet.
“My strategy will be the same as Karessa’s – get out fast and stay ahead of the pack,” Pearcy said. “It will be fun to compete at regionals as a team.”
MWHS head cross country coach Jackie Harvey explained why getting a fast start is so important at Mae Simmons Park.
“In this race you want to get out in front from the start so you can position yourself to run at the top (of the pack),” he said. “The big hill is on the first part of the course about 150 meters into the race, and you don’t want to wear yourself out on the first part of the course.
“That hill separates the runners, making it more important to get into position and not get pushed to the back.
“Both Karessa and Alex get stronger as the race goes on, and they have a good kick at the finish.
“They have been on this course before and know it well.”
The coach has also noticed the improvement of his other runners. Katlyn Rivera placed third overall at the district meet, with Raeann Rivera placing sixth, Ragland eighth, Martinez 10th and Otwell 11th.
“I also feel Katlyn, Yesenia, Raeann, Natalie and Taylor will continue to run well,” Harvey said. “They will run their races and I feel they will continue to run as well as they have all year.
“They will all run pretty much the same pace, and the all make the team better.
“I feel like everyone will run their best times of the year.”
Despite the success of the Lady Rams and Rams teams, Harvey said they will all need to turn in season-best performances for the teams to qualify for the state meet.
The top three teams and top 10 individuals qualify for the Class 3A cross country meet in Round Rock.
“It’s going to be tough. The girls are in a tough region,” Harvey explained. “Dalhart was a state finalist last year and they have almost everyone returning, and Liberty Hill and Brownwood have also not lost much and were one of the top three teams in the region last year.
“You have to consider all three front runners this year considering how many returning runners they have.
“It would be a good accomplishment for our girls if they get out to state.
“Our girls are a whole lot better than they were last year.
“They are stronger, and they have put in a lot more time.
“They have run good all year long and I think that is something that will carry over to the regional meet.
“They have competed well all year long.”
The Rams will be led by junior Preston Brooks, who placed second overall at the district meet. Rams runners Keith Stafford (fourth) and Juvaree Sutton (sixth) also finished in the top 10at the district meet.
Joining the trio for the regional meet will be Curtis Allred, Everitt Jordan and Sergio Velasquez.
Harvey explained why Brooks went form an 11th-place finish last year at the district meet to a runner-up finish in 2013.
“Preston has put in a lot of time ever since we got out of school last May,” Harvey said. “He worked hard all summer long, and that is what it takes to succeed in the fall.
“He dedicated himself, and he ran a lot on days it was 100 degrees or more. He worked hard all summer, and it shows.
“I encourage all of my runners to get out in the summer and run, but Preston probably put in more mileage than any kid on the team, boy or girl.”
Harvey said he was not surprised that his boys’ team is making a repeat trip to the regional meet.
“They were there last year, so I felt if we stayed healthy we could get back,” he said. “I told the kids earlier in the year – and I was trying not to be overconfident – that we had been there and know what it takes to get there again.
“Since we have been to regionals so many times, our next goal is to take that next step to the state meet.”
Harvey said the boys are also in a tough region.
“I think the boys have a chance to reach state,” he said. “But we have to run better than we did in district. I think we will run a lot better.
“I have several of the boys who did not run as well as they can at the district meet, but I expect them all to bounce back and perform like are they are capable of doing at the regional meet.”
The Class 3A state cross country meet will be Saturday, Nov. 9 at Old Settler’s Park in Round Rock.