The 2019 UIL 6A State Cross Country Championships was just as good as anyone and everyone could have imagined it would be.
The boys state championship came down to the three teams we expected it to and the girls was as good, deep, and as unpredictable as many believed it would be.
In the end, it was both of the Southlake Carroll teams standing at the top of the podium. For most schools, winning a state championship five and six years ago would seem like a recent memory and winning another title just a few years later would be positive.
However, we aren't talking about most schools. This is Southlake, Texas and Carroll High School, a place that is almost like holy grounds in terms of athletics and especially in Texas high school cross country.
The boys last won a state championship just five years ago and have been second place the last four years. The girls program has never won a UIL 6A state title. Their last win was back in 2013, when the largest classification was still 5A.
To these girls and boys, thats an eternity. The wait, is now officially over as for the first time ever, both 6A championship trophies made their way to the same school and that school is Southlake Carroll.
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Girls Championship Race
There were so many questions heading into Saturday. With Brynn Brown and Heidi Nielson both unable to run due to injuries, we wondered who would take the opportunity to win their first state championship.
Then the team outlook was almost just as blurry. The Carroll girls had been running extremely well all season long, but lately, they have torched each race they ran. Flower Mound had been great all year and Coppell was looking even more dangerous in the last few weeks than they have all of last year when they dominated the state meet.
Individually, the race came down to the girls we expected to be major players. Juniors Avery Clover of Humble Atascocita and Eva Jess of El Paso Franklin led the way along the Old Settlers Park course for much of the race. But, sophomores Natalie Cook and Aubrey O'Connell were only slightly behind and both girls have the track pedigree to make a late surge.
That is exactly what O'Connell did. She made a move in the last mile and never relinquished it despite outstanding efforts from Jess and Clover to close; O'Connell won in a SB of 17:05.
The team race had all of the Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) firepower. Carroll, Prosper, Coppell, and Flower Mound continued their season long battles as they all placed in the Top 5. However, the surprise act in the show was Humble Kingwood.
Kingwood head coach, Jeremiah Dye has had his girls improving and running well as the season progressed. The Region 3 champs were unfazed by the DFW hype. Freshman Carly Ahrens placed eighth overall with at 17:54 PR to lead her Lady Mustangs to a second place finish in the overall team standings.
For the second consecutive year, Prosper followed O'Connell's lead to a third place team finish. The Lady Eagles have strategically followed the plan of Coach Jennifer Gegogeine all season long. Prosper didn't run a full strength or loaded team all season long until the championship season began and still proved they are a state meet podium team.
Carroll's win in Round Rock validated the times they have been posting all championship season long. They ran a 18:07 team average with a 24 second 1 - 5 split. They placed two girls in the Top 10 with seniors Jenna Holland (7th - 17:54) and Katherine McElaney (9th - 18:00). Sealing the win for them was that their five scorers were all within 10 places as Holland was seventh overall and their number five was 17th.
The overall team race was so good, that the top five teams ran team averages of 18:38 or better with three of the teams having splits of 36 seconds or better.
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Boys Championship Race
With the 6A boys being the last race of the day, it was almost like watching the 4x400 relay to end the state track meet. We had some outstanding individuals and teams shutting things down for the 2019 state meet and the show was simply electric.
All of the distance studs you could think of were involved and they made the race out to be one of the fastest state meets in years.
La Porte senior Ryan Schoppe had already previously won two state track championships in the 3200m, but had yet to win a state title in cross country. Not only did he run to a state championship on Saturday, but he ran 14:14 for the second fastest 5,000m in US high school history.
Schoppe wasn't the only runner in the race to have a great day. The race pace was led and pushed by The Woodlands' senior Ethan Hammer , College Park's Nicklaus Brawner, and Klein junior Christopher Daniels. Six runners in the 6A field ran sub 15:00 races. Runner-up Anthony Monte of Austin Vandegrift ran a fast 14:39 and earned his first UIL state medal.
The team race was quite the dandy and just as fast as the individual race.
To make the podium for the team award, you had to have an unrealistic and fabulous day.
The fourth through seventh place teams all ran quality races that would have been good enough to get on the podium in normal years.
The team scores were so close, that literally seconds were the difference from the four through seven places. Klein scored 153 points, College Park scored 163, El Paso Americas was sixth with 165 points, and Coppell was seventh with 166 points.
Southlake Carroll's win was definitely earned. They broke the four year winning streak of The Woodlands, but it took a superhero effort to do so.
That heroic effort actually came from five guys. Nate Lannen, who is one of the most consistent and dependable runners in the state, is the usual number one runner for Carroll. He finished in a non scoring sixth place for the team for the first time in two years. Nevertheless, the rest of the team stepped up with a Top 10 finish from Solomon Chavez.
Lannen, not scoring wasn't necessarily because he didn't run well, but it was because his team ran extremely well. The rest of the scorers all ran under 15:35 and with a 26 second split.
After a completely dominating four straight years, The Woodlands still finished second and Flower Mound was third overall, continuing their outstanding 2019 season.
The 2019 6A state meet should be a long time memory due to the results. The top seven teams all ran 15:39 and under team averages and five of the seven teams had 1 - 5 splits of 46 seconds or better.
It Leaves, one question. What will it take to win next year?