Photo Credit: Chris Langford/MileSplit TX
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The McNeil Invitational is presented by Hoka One for the second year in a row. McNeil is thought of as the state meet preview, that is why it is such a big draw for many competitors across the state.
Coaches who come have hopes of qualifying to the state meet and getting their teams acquainted with the course, the atmosphere, as well as the overnight/travel experience.
Here are some of the athletes to watch for at this weekend's event.
Friday Girls Races
We are keeping an eye on the Celina girls as a team; they are the defending UIL 4A state champs and current CCCAT No. 1 ranked team in 4A. They have a good shot at repeating and that rides with three of their leaders Alexis Frick, Samantha Quiroz, and Aimee Clarke. Frick comes in with a 11:25 seedtime , Quiroz with a 11:44, and Clarke has a 11:53 on the books.
Another strong team with front running leaders is No. 4 ranked Fredericksburg. Taylor Grona has been a leader in the state going on three years now. As with Celina, there are reinforcements for the top runner. Freshman Rilyn Grona and sophomore Ava Stuewe will help bolster the team's chances of running well. They are finally moving down to the two-mile distance after running several 5Ks in the early goings of the season.
Adding to the intrigue in the girls 2-mile races is the No. 1 ranked 3A team Holliday. Jaycee Lyons is another familiar name and has been a part of Holliday's success the last three years She comes in with a 11:41 SB and teammate Simone Mouras has also dipped under 11:50 with a 11:41 of her own.
Other top runners to look out for are Addison Hite (Pilot Point), Vania Martinez (Gatesville), Brooklyn Albert (Poth), Alexa Williams (Salado), Isabella Billingsley (Tilden McMullen), Lily Swarts (Houston St. Agnes), Esmeralda Garcia (Brazos), and Claire Bibb (Anna). All of these girls have sub 12-minute runs or are state medalists.
Friday Boys Races
Also running on Friday are 15 boys who have already run sub 16 minutes in the 5K. Here are some who stand out the most:
No doubt about it, Ayden Granados (McAllen Memorial) is one of the best runners in the state. Due to registration issues, one of the strongest teams and some of its runners will be racing day one and it figures to be a heck of a race.
Granados hasn't really been pushed all season long. Will he get that this weekend? He has easily cruised high and mid 15s; his 1:56, 4:11, and 9:08 last track season show he can turn things on when he needs to.
Several other boys will be in contention for winning this race like Logan Tauch, Abel Solorio, Riley Nedrow, Jaedyn Pesina, and Riley Trent, I'll admit that I'm looking forward to this next group of guys to see if they can prove they belong.
Ben Wright (Lake Travis) and James Butler (Del Valle) looked in control a couple of weeks ago in Pflugerville. That was a hot day, but with better conditions and other guys who can lead the race, I'm optimistic about what they can produce.
Noah Strohman (Holliday) is one of the most talented freshmen in the country. This will be his first major competition on grass against more experienced and physically stronger runners. I'm intrigued to see how he reacts to this big stage.
I'm also looking forward to see how Alexis Rodriguez (Edinburg North) and Jorge Aguilar (Eagle Pass) can run in a little less humid weather than what they're used to. They've been able to run 15-high down south. Round Rock weather should be a little easier for them.
Individually, this race is captivating. You can throw everything about the course distance, what the weather was like, who was in the race and all of that out the window. This is mano e mano.
We have the best returning runner from last year in UIL 6A winner Kevin Sanchez (Austin Vandegrift) who ran an impressive 14:55 last week at Lovejoy who is working on regaining his strength and fitness after being sick.
Sanchez will have a group of boys who have been on fire since the beginning of the year. David Mora (Lubbock Monterey) Angel Sanchez (Fort Worth Diamond Hills-Jarvis), and Hudson Bennett (Burnet) who have several sub 15-minute races under their belts this season. None of them are 6A runners, so this is one of the last attempts they have at beating the 6A boys.
There are an unreal amount of other boys who are in the low 15s and if they get in the race and ride the momentum there are a couple who could go under 15-minutes.
The team race will be a fun one to pay attention to.
Numbers wise, Atascocita is the best returning team in the state not named Southlake Carroll. The Eagles haven't knocked anyones socks off, but after last November, they are focused on the championship season.
However, Austin Vandegrift, Coppell, Wylie, Round Rock, and Klein Oak all look like they're ready to jump on any opening in the top four teams we've been seeing in Carroll, The Woodland, Eastwood and Atascocita.
McKinney Boyd, New Braunfels, Lucas Lovejoy, SA Central Catholic, SA Reagan, and Georgetown East View are all possible teams who could get a trophy this weekend.
In my opinion, Margaret Thompson (Hockaday) is one of the next big break out stars in Texas. The SPC star has already won state titles and has already run fast times, but it's the next level that is waiting for her and this could be the weekend for her to make you aware of her.
No lead is safe with the sister duo of Sara Morefield and Amy Morefield. Amy has speed and Sara just doesn't know when to quit. We've seen Amy out kick and track people down. Last weekend, Sara displayed her own ability to do so with her superb second half of the race running to finish behind runner-up Frankenberg at the Lovejoy XC Fall Festival.
My sleeper of the race is Charis Whittington. The Richardson Pearce senior can absolutely fly! She has been tearing it up on the DFW scene and going to compete at Old Settlers this weekend could be the first of two races there for her this year.
Team wise, Lovejoy will be the favorite to take the win, but there are several teams looking to get over the hump this weekend.
Boerne Champion and Highland Park are next level teams, but making moves have been Vandegrift, Round Rock, Kingwood, and Canyon. Northwest Eaton made it to state last year and they are looking to find that form again this year and they could find it this weekend.