From Counted Out To No Doubt

By telling you that The Woodlands is one of the best cross country teams in the state, you'd probably react with an emphatic -- duh!

After all, they are one of the most successful boys cross country programs in state history. It's been that way ever since back when the school went by a different name. They also have 21 state UIL cross country championship trophies in their trophy case.

However, it was just last year when they entered the 2018 cross country season with a big question mark. It was almost inconceivable that they would be able to win the 2019 UIL 6A state meet.

After winning the 2017 state championship, which was their third consecutive cross country title, they graduated six of the seven runners who competed and contributed to the win that day.

They faced a rebuilding year. With having only one runner returning from the state meet isn't an easy thing to recover from for anybody, especially in the 6A classification. They had to nearly replace an entire team.

On the outside of the program, some had considered them down and out in regards of a championship run and keeping their streak alive. They were no doubt counted out.

They started the MileSplit 50 Texas rankings off outside of the top 10, that almost never happens. They also finished second to Katy Tompkins at the Region III Preview in the third weekend of the season.

Through training, hard work, and guidance from the coaching staff, the Highlanders would eventually get things rolling and would pick up steam throughout the season and rise through the rankings.

By the time championship season came, the Highlanders were back to looking like what we were used to seeing from them for the last couple of decades.

Ryan Cardinal had developed into one of the best runners in the state and Ethan Hammer was right there with him stride for stride the majority of the time.

The two both finished in the top 10 individually as Cardinal finished third and Hammer ninth helping to bring home that fourth consecutive state title that looked almost impossible at the start of the season.

The Highlanders used seven guys that nobody knew or expected what they'd be capable of doing on that Saturday morning. In addition to juniors Cardinal and Hammer, they lined up junior Aaron Soltmann, sophomore Joshua English, sophomore Matias Mononen, junior Benjamin Amundson, and sophomore Brian Sewell.

Their top five guys ran to a 15:28 team average and a 1:06 split in route to the win. The sixth runner also ran under 16:00 and the seventh runner finished right at 16:01.60. Coming into the 2018 season, only two of their guys had cracked the 16:00 barrier and that stat remained true all season long until the big state meet race. 

It is now a completely different scenario, a full 360 degree turn for 2019, if you will. It's something new to this group of guys as they go from being a group of unknowns to being the guys everybody is looking out for. However,  this is not new to the staff or the program. The 2018 off seasons and start to the season were perhaps some of the hardest coaching jobs having to train the fitness and psyche to a state championship level. This year it's one a little more like what the program is used to.

The 2019 Highlanders go from being underdogs and being counted out one season to no doubt they are considered the best team to enter this season.

My oh my, what a difference one year makes.