El Paso Eastwood fresh off of their 5A State Victory.
Article by El Paso Metro Suhail Boureslan
Although it's only been about a week, down in west Texas there's still a buzz from the Cross Country State Championship. We saw success across all divisions but there was one team that stood out from all the rest. El Paso Eastwood won their first state title in the 5A Division.
They're no strangers to stiff competition as they've been competing in 6A for years in the infamous "Region of Doom." This year was no different as they saw tough competition in Austin LBJ and Lucas Lovejoy.
Eastwood seem to be immune to adversity as they went against some of the nation's best at the Woodbridge Invitational and Desert Twilight meet this year and competed extremely well.
They saw great success in those meets placing 5th at Woodbridge and edging out a 1st place finish at the Desert Twilight invitational. Claiming the 5A state title, Eastwood finished with 62 points and had a 15:42 team average with a 0:30 1-5 split cementing them as having some of the most consistent/best 1-5 splits in the state all season long.
We were able to catch up with Mike McLain and his boys at practice to see how they've been since their State victory. Seniors Kayn Quinones and Eddie Gallegos have done a great job of leading their team all season long in their own respective ways. Kayn finished 3rd for his team placing 16th overall with a time of 15:39.75. Eddie finished 5th on the squad as Eastwood's anchor with a 32nd place and a time of 16:00.52.
TxMileSplit - You finally win a state title for your team and school. How does that feel?
Coach McLain - When I found out we won I was on the other side of the lake and by myself, I was proud of my kids for racing well against some very good teams but I really didn't feel anything until I got around the kids and I saw how happy they were, then it started to sink in. The biggest difference is how people back home have treated us.
TxMileSplit - Over the duration of your coaching career, your program has seen great success. Do you feel that over the years that success overshadows this win or vice versa?
Coach McLain - I haven't really thought about it? To tell you the truth coaching for wins or championships has never really motivated me. I coach because I like the process of working hard together and the relationships that are built during those processes. I like kids to get experiences that will last them a lifetime.
TxMileSplit - You've had some amazing varsity teams in the past. What made this specific varsity boys' team different than all the rest?
Coach McLain - It's never easy. We are a middle class school so that means we have kids on our team with lots of distractions including several kids who are holding down jobs and school and training. So there are always difficult times during a season. I believe the best teams are the ones that deal with the bumps in the road the best because there will always be bumps in the road and this team simply has dealt with them very well not letting them distract them.
TxMileSplit - It would seem now that Eastwood is leading the Big Three to represent El Paso with all the success you're having. Is there any pressure that comes with that? If so, how do you and your team deal with it?
Coach McLain - Well the big 3 are San Eli and Tornillo and us and each of us has our down years and our up years, but those 3 teams seem to have a lot more up years than down years. I don't know if anyone is pulling ahead of the other, in fact I don't think that's the point, we need them and they need us to help push each other. I think these 3 programs have stood out in the El Paso area because they are doing things the right way and we all have a lot of respect for each other. We understand that we can each have good years at the same time, we don't have to tear the other program down in order for us to be successful (many other programs don't understand this).
TxMileSplit - With all of the competition you guys have faced all year long like at Woodbridge and Desert Twilight, does that change how you approach a big meet like Nike South? What do you do to prepare your boys for such intense competition?
Coach McLain - We don't change much at all, we have done the work to give us a good shot and we will prepare for this meet the same way we prepare for every meet and we will enjoy the experience and enjoy ourselves before the race and after the race.
TxMileSplit - What's very impressive and surprising, which a lot of people might now know is that you guys have some of the longest travel time to make it out to some of these meets. I think your trip to Woodbridge took 12 hours? Your boys have proven to be extremely motivated and resilient. How do you guys do it?
Coach McLain - Yes and the bus trip to The Woodlands is even longer 15 hours in a bus, in fact we drive through the night in order to get to the meet. That is just what we have to do, so we do it. I think it does help our team be ready to deal with many different circumstances where maybe some other teams might be thrown off feeling very tired from the travel, but we are used to it. I do wish the NXN at large committee last year knew. We were a very close 3rd place at NXR last year and I don't think any other 3rd place team had to drive that many hours through the night to reach their regional meets. If they had known maybe it would have influenced their choices?
TxMileSplit - Eastwood has another long drive to the coveted Nike South Invitational. Are we finally going to see a NXR birth from a small school from West Texas? What will it take from your boys to get it done coming off a huge win at the 5A State Meet?
Coach McLain - That would be nice! We have done the work to give us a chance. I see 4 really good teams that all have a chance and we are one of those teams. In order for us to have a good chance we all need to show up, and we all need to believe. If we do that we will have a shot.
TxMileSplit - As the Cross Country season comes to an end you lose two extremely talented seniors in Kayne Quinones and Eddie Gallegos. They've proven to be natural leaders for your team. What have you gained with them on your team and is there anyone we should be looking out for to fill those spots when they graduate?
Coach McLain - Yes Kayn and Eddie developed into 2 very good leaders this year, with them we have 2 guys who are connected to our past and who understand that each person on the team matters, no one person more than the other and this is important in our program. This is a hard but important lesson to learn on a team especially in today's society where everyone is always trying to get individual glory online. Picking your leaders is something that's hard to do, you never know who is going to step up. I have a good idea about who I think has those qualities of placing the good of others ahead of their own but we will see who emerges over the next year.
TxMileSplit - We've seen you guys get credit on a national scale and we've also seen you drop off of those national rankings despite competing very well against some nationally ranked teams. Do you feel a state championship gives your program legitimacy and due credit?
Coach McLain - No I don't think it does. We have been a smaller school for a long time competing against the big boys for several years but every year we never even start ranked in the top 10 in the state of Texas. To tell you the truth, that's the way I like it. No one is going to give us anything; we have to take it.