Realignment happens every two years and it's never a dull outcome afterwards.
This year, it will make the UIL 5A girls and boys regional and state meets as exciting or more so than any races this season.
Good team and individual battles are what cross country is all about and that is exactly what we are going to get this year.
So how crazy can it be this year?
UIL 5A Girls Individual Race
Well, to start things out with the girls individual battle, the 5A race has seen a lot of a McKinney North jersey running wild on the Old Settler's course with London Culbreath for the past two seasons. Aledo's Gracie Morris has been worthy competitor and one that has been up for the Culbreath challenge. With both girls returning for their junior season and Morris' first race back from surgeries and rehabs since Foot Locker South Region race, this season should more of the past.
Those are the top two returners from last year's state meet. Add Burleson Centennial's star Harli Woolsey who will just a sophomore this season and looking to improve from last season's 17:59.70 and fourth place finish, the individual race will be another good one.
Related: Gracie Morris Injured And Out For The Entire Track Season - Still A Girl On Fire
But wait, Montgomery drops down a class from 6A to 5A and they not only bring a team of girls that qualified for the 6A state meet last year, but they bring in two stud runners that will make the individual race a hot one! Seniors Halena Rahmaan and Allison Wilson will surely shake things up in 5A and add some extra spice to the race.
After all, these two ladies aren't just good runners. Both ladies finished amongst the top in 6A the last two years. In fact, Rahmaan finished at the top last year by winning the 6A title and Wilson was 7th overall. The duo combined to make Montgomery the only school in the nation to send more than one individual qualifier to a national championship final (Rahmaan - Foot Locker and Wilson - NXN).
UIL 5A Girls Team Race
Team wise, many of the usual 5A usuals should still be at the top. The Canyon Randalls and Highland Parks of 5A should continue to do their thing. However, Montgomery could be a factor. Also coming to 5A is Kaufman, a team that has perennially been a strong 4A team.
Kaufman is a usual state meet team and moving up to 5A shouldn't be any different. They were on the awards stand earning a 4A trophy back in 2016. Graduation hit big time after that, but they had some fabulous freshmen hit the scene last year and they ran their way right back Round Rock when all was said and done. A year later, coach Stone could have those young ladies right in the thick of things at the end of the year.
Frisco Liberty lost their low stick with Carrie Fish's graduation, but will return as the defending 5A champion and still has several pieces from their top 7. Canyon Randall....enough said, they'll be there as usual, Burleson Centennial will make noise again, and Highland Park is as deep and talented as ever. Teams to keep an eye on will be Cedar Park, Frisco Wakeland, McKinney North, and Grapevine. Leander Rouse could be particularly dangerous because of their team split.
Boys 5A Individual Race
Just like the girls race, a set of juniors have been two of the top 5A boys for the last two years. Graydon Morris and Michael Abeyta have been nothing short of entertaining for two straight years. There will be fireworks fo sure when they hit a course together. They seem to up the ante when they race one another and one thing is for certain, toughness and fitness will be tested as the pace is usually brutal when they race together!
They had two classic battles at the end of last season at the Region 1-5A and the state meet. Morris won both race, but both races weren't decided until the kick. Abeyta spent the Spring track season working in his 800m and he dropped some masterful kicks, which could come in handy for the cross season.
Nick Hendrix of Wakeland is an absolute stud and has the potential to challenge Morris and Abeyta. Bobby Holt of Dripping Springs had a good junior year in cross and especially on the track as did Cameron Kleiman of Austin LBJ. Both guys could be in for a fine season and top finishes.
The realignment will bring in three big time runners with state meet experiences, all who have been on a roll. From 6A, PSJA Memorial senior Cruz Gomez could definitely make the front pack go from two to three runners very easily. Gomez was fifth last year in the 6A race, but from there he ran a spectacular NXR South race and ran his way to NXN individually. His track season was on point as he ran well in the 1600m and 3200m distances ending up at the state meet and on the awards stand in both with silver medals and 4:13.64 and 9:13.83 PRs.
Alec Wright of Montgomery also drops down from 6A and just like his teammates on the girls side, he will look to impact the individual race. His 15.21 at state earned him a PR and a 9th place overall finish that he'll look to improve on in 5A.
Making the move up, will be Kaufman junior Christian Rivera who will come from 4A where he has been accustomed to running in the front and racking up individual awards for the last two years. He had a great sophomore season as he was the 4A runner-up last year in cross and second in the 1600m and fifth in the 3200m.
Boys 6A Team Battle
The last three years in 5A have been very entertaining to see who gets on the awards stand. This year should be just as wild and crazy as before.
Through all of the craziness, there has been at least one constant...Lucas Lovejoy.
The jerseys are just as unmistakable as the coaching and the talent as they will shoot for their third straight 5A title. The 2015 season was the last time we saw another 5A team at the top of the awards stand, but Lovejoy was still not too far away as they finished second. It's not a given that they'll win, but don't expect them to give away what they might feel is theirs -- it'll have to be taken.
Looking to take that crown could be a number of teams. Wakeland and Grapevine have always been lurking around year after year and have a knack for award stand finishes of their own. Both teams could have quality shots at the top spot this season. Wakeland has a good low stick runner with Hendrix to go with the rest of their bunch. Grapevine was second last year and they have their split going for them that will keep them in just about any race around the state. They could have one of the tightest packs around this season. Cedar Park has been a great program for many years as well and they climbed back up to the awards stand last year and could have their eye on the top prize this year.
Realignment brings in two potential teams who could totally scramble the usual 5A pecking order. The Kaufman boys who just like with their girls team have been at the state meet pretty much annually for many years. They move up from 4A where they earned a trophy last year. Montgomery comes in from 6A where they qualified as team last year and could do the same and be an even bigger factor in 5A this year.
The big shocker of realignment is the addition of El Paso Eastwood. Eastwood ran well and made a lot of noise all last season and not quieting up until the very end. They won the 1-6A regional team race last year and finished third overall at state en route to a valiant effort at NXR South where they just missed out on a team bid to NXN. They've lost stud after stud over the last two years including some big time senior leadership from last year. However, Eastwood seems to reload and running 5A where they'll be fresh faces to some teams could prove to just the boom to help make the 5A boys the best race in Round Rock when November rolls around. Elias Perez was just a freshman last year, but will be relied upon heavily to be the man for the team this season. Coach Mclain will have Eastwood in position to try to shake up 5A, but don't expect the 5A programs to make it easy for them.
If the possibilities of this 5A team clash doesn't get you excited then make sure to be at the state meet and let me know how you feel then!