Although one of the most prestigious cross country meets around got a little muddied, it only built character onto what was the 2019 running of the Friday Night Lights Meet at The Woodlands.
Most teams traveled from hours away to the north part of Houston to kick off the 2019 season for other teams. Sealy was one of those squads participating in its first meet of the new year and head coach Anthony Branch spoke to the importance of attending such a large meet out of the gates.
“This meet’s always the toughest, it’ll be the hardest meet of our year until we get to regionals so I wanted to get them that experience of what it’s like to have a big crowd and run,” he said after the meet. “Montgomery will be a tough meet but it won’t be anything like this. This by far was a lot tougher than last year because number one; the rain. There were some parts of the course that were real muddy and it got worse after so many races so it was really tough to run in that.”
Precipitation and dirt don’t mix well, especially in the home stretch of a cross country course and before the junior-varsity races kicked off, community fun runs and open competitions already beat down the path but that did little to salvage shoes sticking in the mud, leaving countless runners barefoot.
“I almost lost my spikes the whole time, all mud,” said junior Vladimir Hernandez after securing his first personal record of the new year. “I have them in my backpack and they were white but now you can’t even recognize them, tough conditions.”
Despite those circumstances, both junior varsity squads registered 27th-place finishes in the team race while the varsity boys took 20th overall in a meet that the coach knows will only go to building the confidence of this 2019 version of Sealy cross country.
“Overall, I knew this wasn’t going to be a meet we were going to come out and win when we’re competing against The Woodlands and top programs in the state, we’re just not at that level yet but we don’t have to be at that level, we just want to be the best as we can be,” Branch said.
Plenty of Tiger runners set that bar high off the bat while others may have been disappointed in their performance, but the coach had a specific lesson to pick them up.
“There were some kids who had PRs (personal records) compared to last year and there’s kids I know some of them that could have done better but I say, ‘Hey, look it’s the first meet it was tough,’ and I told them before; ‘Learn the mistakes, take note of your mistakes then come Monday, go back to work on it and let’s go get better because you have to start somewhere on the season,’” Branch said.
Hernandez was one of those PR-getters, finishing in 14:09.4 and claiming 25th overall in a gratifying race, he said.
“I’ll be honest, it was a pretty good race, currently my first PR of the season, got that out there,” Hernandez said. “Everyone was doing well, we were flowing, we were energized, we wanted to get one of our set goals which was to PR and we did it.”
Senior Trinity Hall was the top Sealy finisher in the junior varsity girls’ race, coming in 117th overall with a time of 16:19.5 followed by sophomore Jenna Forrester 20 second later in 147th. Sophomores Rosa Alvarez (190) and Haily Arteaga (199) finished in the top-200 overall and then it was freshmen Jada Burton (224) and Holly Brown (227) then sophomore classmates Hattie Schalla (235) and Karla Merida (295) for the Lady Tigers.
Only two Sealy girls competed in the varsity competition; junior classmates Coral Becerra (15:50.9, 209th overall) and Madison Manak (17:40.8, 268th overall) and although the conditions might have hindered her a bit, Branch was pleased with Becerra’s race.
“I thought Coral ran really well at the varsity level, she really took off and ran good, I know she would have liked to have a better time but like I told her, ‘You probably ran better tonight than you did last year, if you had the conditions you had last year you would have easily shattered what you did last year,’” the coach said.
On the boys’ side, Daniel Eschenburg was the Tiger leader in the junior varsity race, completing the course in 17:48.6, earning 181st. Not far behind was Rudy Nava, finishing in 208th in 18:32.6 before three Sealy runners nearly finished on top of each other.
Junior Cody Prause (225), freshman Colby Eschenburg (227) and sophomore Ike Konvicka (228) manufactured similar races in front of junior Brayden Ashorn (253rd) and sophomore Swayeb Ahmed (271st).
At the varsity level, sophomore Xavier Olvera (81st) wasn’t far behind Hernandez and had senior James Gassiott (135), sophomore Daniel Medrano (156), sophomore Julius Aguiar (182) and Cameron Eschenburg (250) behind him helping the team take 20th overall.