Five Standout Performances From The HOKA McNeil Invite

The Round Rock boys put together a second consecutive superb team outing at the Hoka McNeil Inv.

Serving as a preview of the state course that many teams hope to run in November, Old Settlers Park serves as a test of all aspects of a good cross-country runner. Whether it be testing speed and your ability to put the hammer down over the final mile, or efficiently managing your endurance and strategy in a large pack through the first mile, the course has everything you could ever ask for or need out of a cross-country runner.

As expected, the HOKA McNeil Invitational tested all of these aspects as it was an excitingly close race that featured some of the top teams in the state going head to head. While the team battles produced wider margins than some expected, the individual races were tightly contested and action-packed throughout.

So, let's take a look at five standout performances from the HOKA McNeil Invitational and find out who won the weekend.

1. Austin Vandegrift Boys

While the Austin Vandegrift boys may have been the favorite heading into the weekend, nothing could've prepared us for the dominant display they produced on Saturday. Vandegrift put themselves in a position to win from the moment the gun went off and things stayed that way throughout the entire race. The Vipers were led by Hudson Haley who finished second individually after a hard-fought last mile.

Additionally, the Vipers saw strong performances from their depth as they finished with a 49-second split and a 15:51 team average despite the large field they faced. This performance marks a big achievement for Vandegrift as they appear to have thoroughly cemented themselves as the number two team in Texas up to this point.

From here, Vandegrift's focus likely shifts toward what they can do to potentially challenge Southlake Carroll for the team title in November. Hudson Haley and Dylan Schieffelin are a formidable duo that can look to challenge Carroll's duo of Jude Alvarez and Caden Leonard. However, Vandegrift will have to extract more out of their 3-5 runners to challenge Carroll.

It's by no means out of the realm of possibility that Vandegrift has the potential to challenge the Dragons, however, there's still work to be done for them to be able to give it their best shot. For now, Vandegrift looked incredible this last weekend, and if they can continue to have these kinds of races and improve they have a real shot at challenging Southlake Carroll for the team title in November.

2. Elizabeth Leachman

Elizabeth Leachman has been nothing short of incredible throughout her young career as she's won nearly every race she's competed in since the start of her freshman track season. Already a state champion on the track, Leachman came into this fall looking to add another state championship to her resume, and if her performance at McNeil is any indication she looks well on her way to doing so.

Leachman thoroughly dominated the Girls Gold race as nobody came remotely close to challenging her as she dropped a new national best by nearly seven seconds in the form of a 16:30.30. Leachman looked composed and strong throughout the race as she decimated the field on her way to this incredible performance.

From here, Leachman's season becomes about maintaining her dominant form until and through the championship season as she likely has her sights set on more than just a state championship. Her range and ability to show such dominance at such a young age makes her career particularly intriguing as it appears she has all the qualities necessary to be a national champion which she could even achieve as early as this year.

Leachman's win at McNeil was a dominant one and goes to show the extent to which our sport has evolved and how talent-heavy the state of Texas is. The rest of Leachman's season brings a lot of anticipation as she looks to have brought home far more than just a state championship when it's all said and done.

3. Henok Hagos

Throughout his short career at San Antonio Jefferson, Henok Hagos has been a force to be reckoned with both on the track and the grass. Hagos had an impressive track season in the spring posting formidable personal bests in the 1600m and 3200m with times of 4:15 and 9:18 respectively, both impressive performances. In addition to these great times, he also qualified for the state meet in the 3200m where he placed seventh.

Given these results, Hagos had high hopes as well as high expectations heading into this fall and it'd be safe to say he's met them up to this point. Hagos started his season by running away with the Milesplit TX XC Invitational which he won by nine seconds in a time of 15:18, a new personal best. He then followed that up with his most recent performance in the form of a closely fought victory at McNeil with another personal best this time in the form of a 15:16.

Hagos showed great patience and awareness as he bided his time in the front pack and waited for the perfect opportunity to strike over the final mile. Once he made his move he made sure it was definitive which ultimately won him the race and secured his second victory of the season. Hagos is off to an incredible and consistent start and looks to have all the makings of a state title challenger later this year.

4. Klein Girls

The Klein girls have quietly had a very good season up to this point with some big victories at Friday Night Lights and the Klein ISD Invitational. Most recently, Klein continued their impressive season with another victory, this time at the McNeil Invite which was their third in as many races.

Klein are led by standout senior Kathryn Koonts who continued her strong start to the year by finishing second against a formidable girls field at McNeil. Koonts has consistently provided the Bearkats with a low stick who's able to finish on the podium and much of their success can be attributed to her strong performances. In addition to Koonts, junior Marian Mann also had a great day as she placed twentieth to help lead the Bearkats to their third consecutive victory.

Despite not being ranked heading into McNeil, another strong performance should surely see Klein find their way into the top ten as they've more than proven themselves to be a team to watch. From here, their goals should shift to focus on preparing for what's surely going to be a challenging and competitive Region 2.

Overall, Klein has had a great start to the year and they look to be a team that will surprise some people should they continue turning in the types of performances that they had at McNeil this last weekend.

5. Round Rock Boys

Another team that's quietly had a great season, the Round Rock boys produced another great performance at McNeil this last weekend. Although they didn't get the victory this time around, Round Rock did what they had to do to secure a second-place finish in a very tight and competitive field against several other ranked teams.

Round Rock was once again led by Kebede Kerlin who placed in the top twenty-five. However, the reason Round Rock was able to do as well as they did can be attributed to the tight split they were able to produce. Their first and fifth runners were separated by just 38 seconds making for one of the best splits in the state.

Round Rock came into McNeil ranked sixth and after strong performances last weekend and at Lovejoy, they have the potential to move higher in the poll should their solid performances continue. For now, continuing to move closer to the front of the race will serve Round Rock well as it will be necessary should they seek to compete amongst the top five teams in the state.

Overall, Round Rock has shown they're a force to be reckoned with to start the season and look to continue rising in the rankings towards the podium places in November.