Cross Country teams take 2nd at Regional Meet, advance to State

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By Lance Catchings

The Liberty Hill cross country teams entered the 4A regional meet in Huntsville Monday with one thing on their minds, and that was to make an appearance at the State Meet. Both teams reached their goal with second place finishes, overall.

Junior Nick Roth led the Panthers with a 17th-place finish, overall, and a time of 17:56.3. Gabriel Diaz (18:16.5), Alex Albarran (18:32.4), Cade Cole (18:33.5), and a gutsy performance by senior Kaleb Lorance (18:39.2) helped the team to the second-place finish. Sam Roth (19:47) and Walker Gilbert (19:51.5) ran hard for the Panthers, as well. This will be the fourth appearance for a Liberty Hill boys team in Kim Holt’s 10 years as Head Coach.

“We knew, for the boys race, Palestine was going to be a strong team,” Holt said. “We don’t normally run the last race that late in the afternoon, but starting the race they looked good. I don’t believe they ran their best race, despite the finish. Alex Albarran looked good at the two-mile, but started falling off. We are not sure what happened, but he held on to be our third finisher. The boys competed well, but we are hoping they run a little better at the State Meet. Kaleb Lorance is a senior, and he is normally not our fifth guy, but he stepped us for us really well. Without his performance, I don’t think we get a second-place finish.”

Holt said before the race that the boys team looked focused and knew what they needed to do.  

“We had just watched the girls finish, and I saw the boys right before they went to the line, and they looked focused,” she said. “They knew going in the first-place team was really good this year, but they ran hard and got a second-place finish.”
The girls team was led by Hannah Johnson, who finished in 17th overall with a time of 13:14.6. Madison Sears (13:26.5), Kennedy Coleman (13:28.6), Eliana Luna (13:32.7) and an injured Brooke Howard (13:40.6) made up the points for the second-place finish. Hannah Brown (13:44.9) and Aubrey Caskey (14:16.3) also ran well for the Lady Panthers. After edging out Llano in the District Meet, the girls fell just short of defeating them again to grab first place at the Regional. This is the seventh consecutive year coach Holt has a had a girls team or individual advance to the State Meet.

“We were focused on some of the top teams, and I noticed that three of the Fresno girls were behind our fifth girl,” she said. “That is when I knew we were running pretty well. When we finished, I thought we might get first, but Llano beat us by 10 points. At the District Meet, we beat them in a tiebreaker, so it could have gone either way. Brooke Howard was running well as our lead girl, but she twisted her ankle and ended as our fifth runner. She completed the race and didn’t drop much, so maybe if she doesn’t get hurt, we beat Llano.”

Unlike many cross country teams of the past, this year there was no ace runner to get a top 10 finish. All year, the girls team has run with the team-first approach. At many meets, the lead girl changed from week to week, and Holt said that is what makes this team special.

“The girls ran well as a team, and they have done that all season,” she said. “These girls have competed together as a team and have competed really hard together. We knew they had to push and finish close as a group, and they ran really tough. I am really, really proud of them and the effort they have given us this season.”

Holt said she was proud of how both teams competed all season long.

“The kids did awesome, and we are really proud of them,” she said. “We like being first, but they did a great job to get second place and advance to State. They are one of the best 16 teams in UIL 4A, and that is quite an accomplishment.”  

With the Regional Meet in the rear view, the teams will refocus for the goal they have been working towards since the summer, which is a spot on the podium at State.   

“We will continue to work hard in practice and get our mindset right,” Holt said. “When you go into the State Meet, there are a lot of factors that come into play. You are on the biggest platform against the best competition. You have to stay focused and control your emotions. I tell them it is not the best team on paper that wins, but the best team that shows up to run on that day. That came into play in Regionals, where Fairfield was first on paper time-wise, but did not run great and finished in the sixth place, overall. We will think about our goals and focus on our workouts but not be scared to go into the race.”

After running the vast majority of their races early in the morning, the Panthers will run at the State Meet in the afternoon. Holt said the late start times will be similar to what they faced at the Regional Meet, but will still be an adjustment.

“At the State Meet, there are less runners competing, but they are the best of the region,” she said. “Most of our runners have experience with this course, either from last year or the year before. Hopefully, we can get a cool front to combat some of the heat when it’s time for us to run. Overall, we handled the temperature pretty well in Huntsville, but I think it did affect some of the other teams. Many of these teams are not used to running that late. At most meets, we usually run at 8 or 9 a.m. I think it comes into play and it affects some kids more than others. The State Meet is a mental game. You can’t talk negative to yourself, and you have to go in confident.” 

The UIL State Cross Country Meet will take place on Nov. 4 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The girls team will run at 2:40 p.m., and the boys will run at 3:10 p.m.

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