After 24 years as the head coach of the Brazos cross country team, Eric Stuessel has had “quite a few successful teams” come through, and this one is shaping up to be another one.
Last year was the first time in 19 years the boys’ team did not qualify for regional competition (although Zachary Cortez made it to state individually) but on the other side, the girls’ squad punched a ticket for their 16th year in a row.
“I had individual boys qualify for state but the team finished fourth in district and that was disappointing,” Stuessel said. “We didn’t have a very good day; that day we had no margin for error and we didn’t do as well as we should have so it wasn’t as good as we thought it was going to be. That was last year and it was not a good deal and we already talked about that at the beginning of the year.”
He included, however, a host of newcomers on top of returners who look to make things interesting on the course in Wallis.
“Cortez is a junior who went to state last year, he’s my veteran guy he’s done real well and last year he came in the top 10 eight times, came in second in district, eighth in regional, he’s a solid returning state qualifier,” Stuessel said.
“Then we have one senior returning, Kaden Kneip, a star baseball pitcher who ran for the first time last year but he was coming off of arm surgery so he didn’t get to run until about halfway through the season,” he added. “Another junior, Alfredo Ochoa, last year in track he was a regional qualifier in the 3200-meter run so he’s gotten better and better since track.”
On top of that, he has a group of four freshmen coming up who have already made some noise at the junior high level.
“The junior high boys won the district meet and three of those guys were main contributors to that,” Stuessel said. “We’ve been enterprising running together and they know to put people in between you and the other team and even if you’re the fourth or fifth or sixth person, you’re always going to be looking to beat someone and put someone behind you to make their score go higher instead of ours.”
Similarly for the girls, the coach has a few high school newcomers who are fresh off decorated junior high careers.
“We’ve got four really good freshmen girls, three of them are already in the top six,” Stuessel said. “Rubi and Esmeralda Garcia last year set the record for the 800, mile and mile and a half. They’re identical twins and are really good and we’re going to see how they do at the high school level. We’ve had a lot of
girl runners come through here and they broke all those records in eighth grade so I’m really excited about them running cross country this year, looking for big things from them.”
Those new additions will look to complement the Kneip sisters who practically took turns being the No. 1 runner last year.
“Returners on the girls’ side, last year they finished fifth at regional and just barely went on to state and our No. 1 runner last year was Maddie Kneip, she was a sophomore and she won two meets and the other two meets she finished seventh and eighth then she was injured the rest of the year and she’s back now healthy,” he said.
“Her younger sister Makinzy was a freshman last year and she took over No. 1 spot and had never run cross country before last year and she actually went all the way to the state meet and finished 14th in the state,” Stuessel added.
If everything goes according to the plan, Stuessel will have another group headed to the top meets and continuing one long-standing streak on the girls’ side while starting fresh with this crop of male runners.