-Written by Ryan Shumaker
The NXR south region includes Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi. However it is widely known that Texas dominates the meet every year. In fact, in many ways the past two boys championship races at NXR have seemed like extensions of the action that took place in Round Rock two weeks prior. In 2015, the state meet was a mud bath that slowed down the times dramatically, then at Nike South it was even muddier and times slowed even more. In 2016, it was hot and dry at state, times were fast and results were largely predictable as was the case in The Woodlands two weeks later. This year if the state meet was any indication of what may happen on November 18th, it's gonna be a dramatic day filled with upsets, incredibly close results and big time performances from big time teams and individuals.
The Highlanders are fresh off narrowly winning their twentieth state title over Southlake Carroll for the third year in a row. In the past two years, The Woodlands guys entered the championship season as heavy favorites, however, this year while they may have been the ranked number one, it wasn't by much. They proved this ranking to be accurate with a fantastic race at state where it was their low stick in Gavin Hoffpauir that really gave them the edge over Southlake. Last year at Nike South this team was third because they raced without William Hunsdale, yet still went on to place eighth at NXN. They are certainly no strangers to Bear Branch Park as it's their home course and they expect a trip to Portland every year. At this point, while nothing is certain and it should be close, it's hard to see two teams beating a driven Woodlands varsity that includes six seniors and a stud sophomore on their home course.
The Carroll boys had a phenomenal race at state, putting five boys under 16 minutes and proving the truly resilient culture of their program as they came within six points of knocking off The Woodlands after finishing third in Region 1-6A. The amazing thing about this team is that they proved they don't need a national champion to be an elite team as for the first time in a while they didn't put any individuals on the podium at state, but still beat some fantastic teams and were closer to The Woodlands than in 2015 or 2016. As far as NXR goes, recent history is definitely on the dragon's side as in 2014 they won state and Nike South, in 2015 and 2016 they were disappointed with their state race, but ran lights out at Nike south, taking second in 2015 and winning in 2016. Southlake is no stranger to Portland either, look for their boys to run even better at Nike South than state.
Just as the Southlake boys proved they didn't absolutely need Reed Brown to have success, the Eastwood boys have had a huge season despite not having All American, Daniel Bernal. This team really burst onto the scene after dropping fast times and competing well with the southwest region's best at Desert Twilight. They didn't really go head to head with any Texas powerhouses until regionals, where they topped bothSouthlake Carroll and Flower Mound, winning the region 1 title with 55 points. As serious contenders for gold in Round Rock, they knew it would take a great race to beat out those teams again and some others they hadn't seen. They took bronze at state, improving off a sixth place finish in 2016. While the Eastwood boys didn't quite get that state title, they certainly solidified themselves as a top tier team, capable of mixing it up with the NXN regulars. They will certainly be just as fired up as any other team and are ready to compete with the nation's best in Portland.
Even if someone unfamiliar with cross country looked at the state meet team scores, they'd likely recognize that Flower Mound put one less runner across the finish line at state than the other 15 teams and still finished eighth. Everyone who pays any attention to American high school cross country however, knows what happened with Alex Maier at state and knows that had Maier been full health, Flower Mound likely would've have gone 1-2 in the race and dropped their team score by 74 points which would've moved them up to fourth. Still, fourth isn't the finish they were looking for. Based on these numbers, they may seem like a team who will be on the outside looking in at the NIke South, but it should not be forgotten that they did beat Southlake at regionals and the Nike South field is bigger than the one at state, making a potential 1-2 finish for Maier and Kirk even more impactful in the team score than at state. Flower Mound has had good showings at Nike South before and are certainly hungrier than ever for an autobid to Portland.
Unfortunately for the College Park boys, history repeated itself at state as in 2016 they finished ninth after being heavy favorites to be on the podium. This year, they were legitimate title contenders, but as the results showed, not only did they fail to make the podium for the third year in a row, they finished eleventh in class 6a. All they can do now however, is move on and ironically, hope history again repeats itself on Saturday as last year after being pushed aside by most following state, the College Park guys shocked the world and qualified for NXN, bested their cross town rivals and proved the doubters wrong. Now, there's no doubt last year's circumstances were unique as The Woodlands was running without Hunsdale, however the result proves that College Park is as resilient as any program in the country and there's also no doubt that despite this year's race at state, the College Park boys are indeed a contender for an auto bid this year as they were close to The Woodlands in multiple races this season and beat Flower Mound on the NXR course earlier this year at the Nike South Invitational. It would be bold to say that this team is a lock for NXN, but anyone who counts them out of the hunt is incredibly mistaken.
Team Dark Horses
While there are team favorites, this year has been one of the most competitive in a while across the board and there are teams that can't be overlooked and could cause trouble for the big dogs at Bear Branch Park on Saturday.
Katy Tompkins- 4th at State in 6a, Region 3 Champions
Humble Kingwood- 6th at State in 6a, 2nd at Region 3
Smithson Valley- 5th at State in 6a, Region 4 Champions
Lucas Lovejoy- 5a State Champions, Region 2 Champions
Grapevine- 2nd at state in 5a, Region 1 Champions
Luling- 3a State Champions, Region 4 Champions
Klein- 7th at state in 6a- 3rd in Region 2
Wylie- 10th at state in 6a- 4th in Region 1
San Antonio Brandeis- 9th at state in 6a, 2nd in Region 4
San Elizario- 4a State Champions, Region 1 Champions
Bentonville- Arkansas 7a State Champions
Fayetteville- 2nd in Arkansas 7a
Bartlesville- Oklahoma 6a State Champions