Ayden Granados (L) and Henok Hayele (R) were only separated by .15 to decide the winner individually, but also sealed the deal for McAllen Memorial going back to state
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In Corpus Christi, Texas, one of the most exciting races of the regional championship occurred. It produced two runners who ran step by step for the entire race with things coming down to a sprint on the track for the win.
The race for the four state meet qualifying teams was also at stake and it was district and even cross town competitors fighting for the fourth qualifying position.
In our meet preview, we mentioned that all-state runner Ayden Granados was the favorite for the win. We also mentioned that instead of taking off and gunning it from the start, he could be prone to taking it easy and ensuring the pace doesn't fall too far off so that several guys running could have PR type of races.
Granados controlling the pace was also good for his team. McAllen Memorial qualified for the region championships by battling some of the best teams in South Texas. Sharyland and McAllen High have enjoyed exciting and promising seasons along with the Memorial boys.
With the McAllen Memorial boys training with one another, they know their paces and they know their distances and assignments. Granados controlling the pace and being a visible benchmark would be key for the squad.
Both he and teammate Diego DeLeon started the year running well ahead of their paces from last season that was also successful for them. They both opened the first meet at Edcouch Elsa over a minute faster than their race in 2021, on the same course.
In the regional race, both Granados and DeLeon were front pack runners making an easy target for their teammates like Roehl Rodriguez, Caleb Navarro, Asa Solis, Demitry Grimaldo, and Caleb Guerra to see and pace off of them.
BOYS 5000 METER RUN FINALS PLACE ATHLETE TEAM RESULT POINTS 1 Ayden Granados 12 McAllen Memorial 15:38.50 1 2 Henok Hayele 11 San Antonio Jefferson 15:38.65 2 3 Valdemar Meza 12 Sharyland 15:55.37 3 4 Edwin Rotich 11 Leander Rouse 15:56.75 0 5 Anthony Zapata 11 San Antonio Southwest Legacy 15:57.19 4
As for holding back and not stretching the field, the McAllen Memorial star did just that. Granados restrained himself for at least two miles and kept the pace strong and honest before dashing into the lead and running off.
However, San Antonio Jefferson junior Henok Hayele had other plans than letting Granados get a clean break run away. Hayele is in his first season running cross country. He hails from Eritrea, the East African nation that has a strong tradition in distance running and marathon running. The Eritreans had a fabulous representation at the World Championships in the distance events this past summer and Hayele looks to be bringing that pedigree to Texas.
However, Hayele succumbed to an experienced runner and a level of savvy it brings to when Granados was able to get just enough of a lead at the only point of the race that mattered. Granados won the Region 4-5A title in 15:38.50 edging out Hayele's 15:38.65 performance.
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While Granados and Hayele were dueling at the front of the race, hundreds of runners were behind them putting it down trying to qualify for state as well.
There were 24 teams in the race vying for only four qualifying teams. You would think 5,000m would be plenty of distance and provide plenty of time for teams to decide who would secure the state meet berths. Not so fast!
That's when the three teams from UIL 5A district 31 showed that from as far north as Austin on down to the Rio Grande Valley they were as good as anyone. Sharyland clearly was the best team on the day as they took the gold trophy home.
However, McAllen Memorial and McAllen High were battling it out for the fourth state meet berth. McAllen High was competing without their number one runner Jacksen Ahlman, but they were still up for the challenge.
The McAllen boys ran a very solid race by dropping a 24 second split from their first through the fifth runner. Running that close through such small spaces on the course and sticking together for 5,000m showed effort and grit. That made the margin of error very small for Memorial.
That margin of error was the .15 second that was the difference of Granados winning and getting second place. His win allowed the race to be tied and allowed sixth man Grimaldo the chance to pull out the win for the team.
For McAllen Memorial, this was more than a man to man type of race. It was more than the seven Memorial boys taking on the other 179 runners in the field. This was about the entire 2022 cross country season.
It began on a very bad note. Right before the season began, they lost Coach Tony Trejo. He was one of their mentors and one of the people in the world who believed in them more than perhaps themselves. He was their coach, he was their coach's coach and father, in fact, he was just about everybody's coach in some sort of way.
For the boys and Coach Jesse Trejo, the season could have ended yesterday, but it didn't. This is the first time in a couple of years the McAllen boys are heading back to the state meet as a team. They did everything they could to extend the season and it'll end where everyone dreams to be at the end of the year, in Round Rock.