Friday Night Lights was the major meet of the weekend. The Woodlands High School put on an early season show that was a electric and exciting as any post season meet.
Teams and athletes performed with some first meet of the year nerves, but many were able to approach a meet with such high level competition in a reserved manner. Knowing that it is still August and too early to be concerned with things too much, pride was still lurking as athletes and teams still wanted to do well in the fitness test and represent for the names on their jerseys.
When the night was over, many went home with a full serving of excitement and the show that was expected to see was provided.
On the boys side, we saw the top teams display their power. Flower Mound and Southlake Carroll both looked strong. Flower Mound placed four guys in the top 10 finishers of the race, including winner Jarrett Kirk.
It was an outstanding boys race and the finish held true to form. Kirk's 12:24.3 win in the 4,000 meter race came down to a final kick with Vandegrift's Anthony Monte as the two were only separated by 0.2 of a second. Also Looking impressive were Abraham Avila-Martinez and Nate Lannen as well as the Cedar Park and Coppell boys teams.
In the girls featured race, some of Texas' top teams and individuals were on display. The individual race came down to two Katy Cinco Ranch teammates in Heidi Nielson and Sophie Atkinson. Nielson won her second FNL race in a row as the two were able to get free early from the pack and they never looked back. Nielson won the race in a nice 11:24.8 on a muddy Bear Branch park course.
Natalie Cook, Avery Clover, and Aubrey O'Connell all joined Nielson and Atkinson in runner under 12:00 and showed how strong the 2021 and 2022 girls classes are as none of the top five girls were seniors.
The girls team race was probably the most anticipated race of the meet. As with the boys teams, Flower Mound and Southlake Carroll both stood out. Flower Mound place four of their girls in the top 20 finishers and they had a 56 second 1-5 split. Southlake Carroll proved why they were ranked #1 in our preseason rankings. Their top five girls all finished within the top 20 and ran for a 23 second 1-5 split. For good measure, their six and seven runners in the race both finished in the top 27.
The Carroll girl's performance was very impressive, but perhaps the most telling tale of what kind of season they might have is the fact that they ran without their top returning runner from last year.
Waxahachie had a winding course that rolled right around the team camp area for all to see the action. That produced the nation's second fastest 5K time of the season so far. Fort Worth Paschal senior Whit Dennis pulled away from the field in the final half of the race and ran to a 15:10 PR.
Dennis and the lead pack ran to a 5:00 first mile and then he negative split the last two plus miles all by himself.
Keller won the girls team race with 75 point total and Canyon Randall was behind in second place with 96 points.
At Kennedale, we saw a fast 5K from Ohio transfer and Celina senior Gavin Frick. Frick ran a SB 16:05 cruising to a 28 second win.
The team race was exciting as it featured some of Texas' best 3A - 4A boys teams. Argyle won the meet with 75 points, just edging out Hurst Bell's 85 points for second. River Oaks Castleberry totaled 95 points for third and Celina finished fourth with 128 points.
The Vista Ridge course is a not an easy course by far, in fact probably one of the most challenging in the state. The terrain is tough and rugged and the hills are also rare challenges.
However, the teams that race at this meet know what is ahead and they embrace it. The 2019 boys winner Hayden Gray was able to navigate the really tough issues the course provided and turned in a 5K SB 16:14. The Round Rock senior not only outlasted the course, but he beat a tough competitor in runner-up San Antonio Johnson senior Victor Zuniga (16:17) in the last few meters of the race.
Zuniga's Johnson team got the meet victory over Round Rock and New Braunfels canyon who tied with 103 points. Round Rock's number five gave them the win and other top teams followed like Smithson Valley and Buda Hays.
The girls race was another good one. San Antonio FEAST junior Lauren Bettencourt led the majority of the race as she jumped out to a big lead, like we accustomed to seeing her do in her races. The tough course might have taken it's toll on her as Smithson Valley junior Sara Scott took the victory in a 18:57 SB.
The girls team race also came down to a couple of Central Texas' top teams. Scott's SV team was able to win by only tallying 91 total points. They got a good battle from second place finishers Round Rock (91) and Vista Ridge (126).
The Jim Ned Warpath Inv. turned in a an elite performance from one of the top 4A returners. Snyder junior Christian Escobedo opened up his season with a 16:00.69 PR. That improved his 16:12 from last year's state meet when he finished in seventh place.
Last year, at this same meet, Escobedo opened up with a 17:44. Clearly, he is in better fitness than last year, but this start could be evidence to the kind of finish he could have as well.
The girls and boys win went to the Morris twins. The girls race was won in 19:02 by Aledo senior Gracie Morris. She won by over a minute and 22 seconds, so it's hard to see what her fitness is like in her first cross country race in over a year and a half.
The boys race was won by Graydon Morris opened up with at 15:50 win. He also won by a huge margin in 51 seconds.