The running conditions at the Nike Cross Regionals South were near perfect conditions. The course held up for the championship races with just a few minor mud spots.
The results were just as pleasant.
The anticipated Boys Championship race was on the course first and it lived up to the hype and more. An outstanding cast of runners sped through the Bear Branch Park course.
The overall favorite, La Porte senior Ryan Schoppe was the man everybody looked to as the more than likely winner. However, there was a little doubt. Schoppe's talent and his ability is undeniable. He has won two UIL 6A 3200m state titles and won this year's state cross country championship. Nevertheless, after two sub par NXR South races freshman and sophomore year, he had to drop out of last year's race with an injury that sidelined him for months. That might have developed some inner apprehension for Schoppe himself.
When the gun went off, he found his way to the lead pack that had several of the obvious and expected runners present. He decided to moderate his pacing at the beginning of the race, "It's a slow course in general, so I decided to stay back for the first two miles," Schoppe said.
It was the last mile that he decided to do the Schoppe and turn on the jets. We have become accustomed to seeing him separate from fields in the second half of races for the past two seasons. He utilized that strategy once again, "When the third mile hit, I just kind of took it over and went for it."
The boys chase pack had many quality guys who were fighting for individual and team qualifying positions. Schoppe's move proved to be perfect as he was able to hold on for the win in 15:06.21 and qualify for his first cross country post season national championship meet.
Brown took time to recover and heal from a fractured metatarsal. She missed the entire Texas UIL championship season run. When doing the math with the typical healing timeline for that type of injury, there was always a slight chance she could return for NXR South.
She did and the only questions would be if her foot could hold up the terrain and if her fitness level was still high enough to compete at a high level.
Brown is an aggressive runner and her race strategy has always been to go out and set a early hard pace. The situation did not cause her to modify the strategy as there was no backing off from her style of running.
Brown ran to the front in the first 400m with a quality lead pack close in tow.
Throughout the three lap race, she was never really able to separate like we usually see her do, yet she was able to maintain the lead and some separation heading into the last half mile.
Four to five runners always seemed to keep contact throughout the race, but as some began to drop off, it was the 2019 UIL 5A state champ Colleen Stegmann who Brown wasn't able to shake. Stegmann is known to making late race surges, which normally drops a lot of girls used that to make up ground on Brown.
Coming out of the wood and past the three mile marker, it was clear Stegmann was shooting for the win and she put on a kick just falling 0.50 short with her 17:47.24.
Brown was unable to compete for the state championship, but saved her 2019 season with the 17:46.74 NXR South win, buying her two more weeks to gain fitness and the opportunity to shoot for a national championship.
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Additional Boys NXN Qualifiers
Judson Greer (Melissa) - The two time UIL 4A state champ gave chase to Schoppe on the last lap just falling short for the win. Greer led three quarters of the 2018 NXR South race was perhaps more focused on the finish this year with a 15:20.62 and this year's runner-up.
Anthony Monte (Austin Vandegrift) - Monte has had a superb 2019 season. The UIL 6A runner-up managed to finish third this weekend in 15:23.78, making his second consecutive trip to NXN.
Abraham Avila-Martinez - (Austin San Juan Diego) - The 2019 TAPPS 2A state champion was 45th in this race last year. He also had a great 2019 season with nothing but top six finishes in every race this season. A fourth place in 15:27.40 earns his first trip to NXN.
Ben Shearer - (The Woodlands Christian) - The 2019 TAPPS 4A state champion was 147th in this race last year. A 142 place improvement to this year's fifth place finish earned the junior his first NXN berth.
Additional Girls NXN Qualifiers
Colleen Stegmann (Frisco Reedy) - Last year, Stegmann was the sixth individual finisher in the race, missing out on qualifying for NXN. This year, she challenged for the win, finishing in second to ensure her trip to NXN. The UIL 5A state champions will be a threat for an All-American finish in Portland.
Eva Jess (El Paso Franklin) - Jess also has had opportunities to qualify for national championship races slip through her fingers had none of that this year. The UIL 6A state meet runner-up used her 17:54.34 to finish third place.
Amy Morefield (Lucas Lovejoy) - The freshman is having a phenomenal 2019 cross country season. She burst onto the high school scene in fashion and will finish the same way. Her 18:10.33 for fifth place qualified her for NXN.
Avery Clover (Atascocita) - Clover's 2019 season began on the Bear Branch Park course and this weekend, it gave her the nod to her final race of the season. The junior follow up her third place at the state meet with a 18:13.26 this weekend, good for a sixth place finish and the first NXN experience of her career.