LHHS cross country teams are state bound
By Mike Schoeffel
For the Liberty Hill girls cross country team, qualifying for the state meet is more of the same.
For the boys, it’s a change of pace.
On Nov. 12 at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, the girls will run in the UIL 4A state meet for the sixth consecutive year.
The boys, who won the first regional title in program history ever on Oct. 29, will be running at the state level for the first time since 2011.
These are two teams with two separate histories. But despite those diverging histories, neither squad is satisfied with simply making it to the final and most decorated meet of the season. There is an expectation among the coaching staff and running corps alike that each team has what it takes to do well at the UIL’s most challenging meet, perhaps even make it to the podium by the end of the day.
“I think if each team can run its best race, a top three finish isn’t out of the question,” said Holt. “We just have to stay focused on what we need to accomplish and do what we know we’re capable of.”
The girls will be out for redemption after placing 13th, their lowest finish in five years, at last year’s historically messy and mud-slathered affair at Old Settlers Park. Last season’s less-than-ideal performance taught Holt and her runners an important lesson: there are no guarantees.
“Anything can happen at the state meet,” said Holt. “Nerves, weather, there are so many different factors. I always tell them it’s not particularly the best team [that does well], it’s the best team on that day.”
So how to manage those uncontrollable factors? Visualization is key, Holt said.
“We’re telling them to think about reaching the podium,” she said. “You have to be positive and see yourself there. No negative thoughts.”
With the weather conditions expected to be much nicer — partly cloudy, 75 degrees, and only a 20 percent chance of rain — there’s no need for negative thoughts about the forecast. Health-wise, the girls will enter with every runner at full strength, a blessing that will add a certain peace of mind.
Two boys runners — seniors Clayton Nance and Jared Dixon — are dealing with ailments, however. Nance had a screw implanted in his knee during surgery a year-and-a-half ago. That screw began loosening earlier this season, forcing Nance to have another surgery to remove it. Dixon’s “hip is bothering him,” according to Holt, though she said it doesn’t appear to be anything serious.
The good news, both runners have been cleared for the state meet, Holt said.
The boys first appearance at the state meet in half a decade was fueled by a confluence of factors. Nance missed all of last season with the aforementioned knee injury, but has returned to become a consistent second-place finisher among the Panthers’ runners, though he fell to third at the regional meet due to the “knee issue,” said Holt. Sophomore Nick Roth, who was injured during the latter part of the 2015 season, finished eighth at regionals.
Then of course there’s the swift junior Alex Albarran, the Panthers’ best runner who placed first overall at regionals.
“He’s been setting the pace,” said Holt. “I’ll expect he’ll be able to do the same thing for us at state.”
The girls placed second at the regional meet behind Fairfield. They’ve been paced all year by senior runners McKynzie King and Emma Hofmann whose experience and leadership has been invaluable on a team loaded with underclassmen.
Of the seven girls that ran at the regional meet, King and Hofmann were the only upperclassmen.
“McKynzie and Emma have done a great job of calming the nerves of the younger girls and helping them progress as runners,” said Holt. “They’ve really helped the younger girls stay calm during the big time races. We’re going to miss them next year.”
With the state meet less than two weeks away, there’s a certain buzz around the Liberty Hill cross country team. Expectations are as high as they’ve ever been, and the runners have responded with some of their most focused and inspired practices to date.
On Nov. 12, they’re hoping to reap the benefits of that hard work.
“You can tell they’re excited,” said Holt. “You can tell they really want to do well.”