El Paso Runners Flex Their Strength In First Meet of Season

Photo credit: J McCabe with TxMileSplit.

I felt good to be back as we saw our first meet here in West Texas get underway. The complexion of the running scene was eerily different yet the competition didn't seem to skip a beat! At the Pebble Hills High Invitational, we were treated to most of El Paso's running powerhouses going head to head at the first meet. Two of El Paso's big three were in attendance with #1 ranked 4A San Elizario and unranked in the 6A division, Eastwood. We also had the returning State qualifiers Americas in attendance who are sitting nicely in the rankings at #4. Also in attendance were the State qualifiers in El Paso Franklin's Varsity girls' team. It was a sandy course so we can't expect the times you'd typically see from these athletes but they still put on some great performances.

So, we'll jump right into the girls' Varsity race. It was very much of the same that we could expect with Eva Jess leading her team to another solid first place individual and team finish. The surprising twist out of the weekend that we saw was El Paso Eastwood's Lauren Walls-Portillo. She seems to be focused on challenging Eva's shot at the throne as she put down a solid 2nd place performance with a time of 19:40.74. Her coach Mike McLain has had nothing but praise for the work she's put in during the pandemic and suggested that she may be able to come out of the season and really surprise some people. But it was all El Paso Franklin this weekend as they had 6 of their girls in the top 10 with newcomer Ally Little, who is a senior, coming in second for her team on an already star-studded cast. Both her and Eva Jess came in first and third place with a time of 19:23.00 and 20:02.62. We got to talk to Coach Laspada briefly about this upcoming season. Hear what he had to say.

TXMileSplit: What's been the biggest challenge for you and your team getting back into the season?

Coach Laspada: Our biggest challenge has been Covid. We barely started practicing again this past week on September 8th. Our kids have been running and doing workouts but without any coaches. I saw some rust on that first day. We are a bit behind from the rest of the state but it is what it is and we had to follow the rules and plan from out district and city.

TXMileSplit: Does it change your approach of how to handle the stress of returning as the #1 girls' team here in El Paso?

Coach Laspada: Our girls have been working really hard without myself and Coach Meza there to push them all summer. Still, we have a lot of work to do in a short amount of time and I have no doubt that the girls will put it in. I'm not going to stress and neither should they. We can only control us and nobody else.

On the boy's side we saw some fast moves and paces despite the slower sandy course. El Paso Eastlake runner Israel David ran a patient race and it paid off as he blasted the last mile to finish first with almost a 30 second gap between 1st and 2nd place. He ran a time of 15:30.18. San Elizario pumped out a close 3rd place finish lead by Edwin Gomez who lead his team with a 7th place finish and a time of 16:11.69. The big news coming out of the boy's race was seeing two of El Paso's juggernauts go head to head in the first race of the season. Unranked Eastwood and #4 ranked Americas in the 6A division. Americas put up a very impressive 2nd place performance with their top two boys Carmelo Corral and Jared Laverty leading their team with a 6th and 8th place finish with respective times of 16:06.24 and 16:12.52. They scored 68 points as a team. Eastwood on the other hand, seemed to want to prove a point early in the season that they belong in the discussion amongst the state's best varsity team. They boasted an impressive team score of 24 with 5 of their boys in the top 10 and 4 of the top finishers less than 10 seconds of each other at the end. They were led by newly appointed varsity runner Isaac Mendoza who finished 2nd with a time of 15:58.41. Every year it seems they're counted out and they somehow make some magic happen and show they can hang with the top guns. We were able to catch up with Coach McLain and talk a little bit about rankings and how they've dealt with the pandemic.

TXMileSplit: Your varsity boys were noticeably absent from the rankings for Texas 6A yet you guys had an explosive performance for the first meet. What can 6A expect from this familiar yet new face of this varsity team?

Coach McLain: It seems like people think we are "done" every year. I cannot speak for my kids but as far as I go, that fires me up! Makes me work my butt off! It really motivates me! I took a screenshot of the CCCAT rankings and I will be using it to remind my kids of who we are and where we come from. What can you expect from us? We will not go away!

TXMileSplit: With the lack of big time meets this year due to the pandemic, how does that affect your training and focus for you and your team?

Coach McLain: This is a tough one. I am never happy with the way the El Paso running scene sets up our meet selection process. It's hidden and we cannot see what teams are going to which meets. Several times that has meant the best teams in town are rarely racing each other. I feel that this puts us at a disadvantage as a city and will be an even bigger disadvantage this year given out of town meets may be difficult to attend.

If this first weekend of races is any indication of what we can expect; I'd say we're in for a real treat because despite the lack of action this summer due to the pandemic these kids are still showing grit as we can expect more great performances as the season progresses. To check out videos of the actions click here.