Panther runners finish strong at State

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By Lance Catchings

ROUND ROCK – The Liberty Hill boys’ cross country team had only one goal in mind in August when they started the season.

Saturday in Round Rock at Old Settlers Park, the team made their goal a reality when they took to the starting line at the UIL State 4A Boys’ Cross Country Meet.

The boys’ team had its best finish in three seasons at the state meet, taking seventh place with a team total of 193 points.

Senior Aubrey Caskey also had a strong race running as an individual for the girls’ team, though the Lady Panthers didn’t qualify as a team. Head Coach Kim Holt said her runners came out and did what they expected to do all season.

“We had a great week of practice and a great vibe going on leading up to Saturday,” Holt said. “We had a few cold mornings, but the kids were ready. We got a nice day to run where it wasn’t too hot and was a little breezy. The kids were pumped up and they performed. The boys did a lot better than they did last year by claiming seventh as a team. Aubrey ran by herself, and she ran under 13 minutes, so I was proud of what everyone did.”

Caskey, who made one of the biggest turnarounds of the season, placed 72nd out of 147 runners in a time of 12:50.52.

“I think Aubrey is very pleased with herself this year, and she should be,” Holt said. “She told me when she was in the starting box for the individual runners there was another girl who was last on her team last year and qualified for state this year. Training over the summer can be so important to their success. They don’t have to do a lot of running. Caskey just worked on distance last summer. She did an awesome job this year, and I would have never expected this from her coming back from what I have seen the last couple years. I am very proud for her and what she has accomplished this year.”

Caskey said she was thankful for the entire experience of her senior season.

“I was kind of nervous coming into the race, but I knew I had to run my hardest, because it was my last race,” she said. “Practice leading up to the meet was different, because I was not used to not having my teammates with me. Training with the guys, I feel, helped me push a little harder at practice. During the race, I was thinking that I had to push my hardest, and I felt I had to push through the pain. It was a good year, and I am thankful for the chance to compete at state.”

Junior Gabriel Diaz led the boys’ team with a 19th place finish, overall, in a time of 16:41.71. Kevin Berber was second on the team in 16:59.72, and freshman Gregory Miller was third on the team with a time of 17:11.48. Senior Nick Roth finished fourth on the team in 17:16.29, followed by Jacob Russell in 17:50.88. Sam Roth finished sixth on the team in 18:00.56, and Cade Cole rounded out the seven Panther runners in 18:46.05. Holt said the team’s improvement is evidenced by their times.

“In 2017, we finished 15th, and in 2016, we finished 16th for the boys’ side,” she said. “It feels good for us and the boys to see improvement, and our goal next year is to improve even more. Our freshmen ran fast, and we are expecting them to improve even more next year. I would say the future for Liberty Hill cross country looks bright right now. Hopefully, we will come back and break the top five next season. Gabe was our first runner, and he finished 19th, overall. He has one more year, and we are hoping he can break the top 10 next season.”

Holt said the senior boys she had this year have been a loyal group, and they have helped build the program into what it is today. Many Liberty Hill community members came out to support the cross country team at the state meet, as well.

“Our senior boys have run for us all four years,” Holt said. “This year, we had somewhere 14-15 seniors total. That is the biggest senior class we have ever had. They have been a big inspiration, and it has been fun to have cross country with them. We will miss them. There are people that we meet on campus and during school in classes saying they want to join cross country next year. I tell our runners that is because of them. What they have done and the family atmosphere we have tried to create is why other kids want to be a part of it. You don’t always have this type of support to support running, and it is awesome for us to have. It helps our program, and it helps the kids that are out here working hard every day. We had a great day at the state meet, and I am proud of all our runners.”

Seniors Cade Cole, Nick Roth and Sam Roth were all smiles after the race. The three seniors have put in countless hours over the past four years to get to this point.

“We finished strong this year,” Cole said. “Freshman year, we did not make it to state, but every year since, we have slowly progressed. Sophomore year we got 16th, junior year we got 15th and this year we made the jump to seventh. Hopefully, the guys coming back can keep improving.”

“Last year, we lost a strong runner in Alex Albarran,” Nick Roth said. “We knew this year, we would have to work harder than ever, so we worked for it. We came out and did what we came to do. We finished better than we ever have, and I can’t say I am disappointed.”

“We did really well,” Sam Roth said. “I did not run freshman year, but I enjoyed every year after that. I think this was one of our better performances, and next year, Liberty Hill will do even better.”

The graduating seniors left it all on the line this year and have made a path for the returners to set their sights on.

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