Girls XC Looks to Run Away with State

Eve Nguyen, Staffer

Last year, LBJ Cross Country sent its first team ever to the UIL Cross Country State Meet Championships. In the past, LBJ Cross Country had only sent individual runners to race at this meet. However, when the boys cross country team qualified for state in 2018, history was made. This season, LBJ Cross Country is preparing to send the girls team to state as well, and come home with two state titles.

Before qualifying for the state championship, the LBJ Cross Country team must make it past the district cross country meet and then place in the top four at the regional meet. According to junior Elyse Hall, a team captain, these upcoming competitions have started to put pressure on the girls team, as the team is hoping to qualify for state for the first time in LBJ Cross Country history. The team is vying for state, but to do that, Hall believes the team must adjust its collective mindset.

“I think we really need to focus on passing every girl in front of you because every girl in front of you is a point for us,” Hall said. “So we just need to switch our mindset a little bit and then I think we’ll be there.”

Assistant coach Jon Croston has been coaching the cross country team for over four years. Croston observed that similarly to past years, the four team captains are very competitive athletically. However, he noted that this season is different because all the captains are first-time captains.

“Last year, we had a pretty exceptional group of captains, and none of that experience has found its way down,” Croston said. “The captains are great people who are really learning, but it’s been an interesting and funny year as far as them learning how to be leaders. I’m really looking forward to next year when they will mostly be seniors. I think they’ll be great leaders.”

In addition to being a captain, Hall is one of the top five runners on the girls varsity team. Hall said that being a captain can be challenging because of how much responsibility is on the captain’s shoulders.

“Being a captain is a lot of organizational work as well as leadership work,” Hall said. “We have to organize and run practices and check people in, check people out, make sure uniforms get checked out—a lot of small semantic stuff. Then there’s also a large leadership factor. We like to help motivate people and just keep a really positive atmosphere at practices.”

With the district and regional meets coming up, the captains are organizing practices on a daily basis to help prepare for the big meets ahead. Hall said that runners need to work more on mental strength while running in order to be victorious in the meets.

“I think it’s a lot of a mental thing right now,” Hall said. “You just have to be really willing to put yourself in a really uncomfortable physical space. You have to be really willing to hurt and be uncomfortable for a long period of time.”

Hall said that qualifying for the state meet is dependent on the team’s ability to develop a strong mentality and bond. Though the girls team might be on track to qualify for the state championship, Croston believes that the boys team will only be able to send individual athletes as opposed to the whole team.

“The boys are definitely on a bit of a decline and struggling with a lot of injuries right now, so they probably will not do as well as they wanted to,” Croston said. “The girls team is honestly going to make it to state this year which is incredible, and I was not expecting them to reach that level until next year, so they are really doing well.”

Freshman Sophie Dale and sophomore McKenzi Popper are the two fastest varsity girls runners, despite being underclassmen. Like Hall, Dale has felt the pressure of the increasing expectations for the girls varsity team.

“I feel like I’m prepared physically because I’ve been working out everyday and have just been training for these meets,” Dale said. “But mentally, I’m still really nervous.”

Croston understands that the team is under a lot of pressure due to the upcoming meets. However, he believes this season will benefit the girls team in the future and that there is more success to come, regardless of this year’s results.

“This experience of going to state and running, even if they’re not going to be one of the top ten teams, is going to be huge because next year, [the girls team] could do as well as the guys did last year,” Croston said. “Next year is their glory year.”

Although Hall is intent on getting the team to qualify for the championship, she said that good things will still come out of the season regardless of how the teams perform. Hall also mentioned that she expects the team to come out strong.

“Whether we go to state, whether we don’t, whatever we do, I want the team to come out feeling like they’ve accomplished something and feeling like they’re proud of how they ran and feeling like even if we didn’t get it this year, we are motivated to come back next year stronger,” Hall said. “And no matter what the outcome is, I want everyone to feel proud of their season and feel motivated to do even better next year.”