This past weekend, we saw some of the best programs in the state of Texas race it out for supremacy in the SPC as well as in the UIL.
Sixteen UIL teams in each conference with the best five to seven runners all maneuvered through the October UIL championship season as did the top SPC 3A and 4A teams.
In the end, it was seven teams who showed they returned as much as they could from last year and developed around the returners to able to repeat last year's success and win additional championships.
Hamilton - 2A Girls
The Hamilton girls used four freshmen to capture the 2022 UIL 2A state championship.
This year, it was those same freshmen who were now sophomores, Presley Long, Anna Pearcy, and Kaitlyn Walton leading the way again. However they also had seniors Campbell Lengefeld and Madison Henkes return from winning the title as juniors to help capture the team's back-to-back titles.
However, the key to this year's title might have been the addition of freshman Chaska Downs. She filled he void left by a graduating senior and without her, the repeat might not have happened.
Now that cross country is complete, look for the Hamilton girls to finish out volleyball season with some on to basketball.
Plains - 2A Boys
It was the UIL 2A conference that added another repeat winner. It was the boys from Plains who won in 2022 and tacked on the second this past weekend.
They graduated just one from last season and came away with the narrow seven point win over Tenaha.
It's rare that things go perfectly for a team, but this year, it was a tale of two races for Jeremiah Gonzales and things couldn't have gone much better. As a freshman, he placed 142nd at the state meet. He ran 22:11 and only beat five runners in the entire competition. This year, he ran over five minutes faster at 16:32 and placed eighth overall.
Despite only winning by 10 points, the Plains boys repeated as state champions thanks to a 16:50 team average and a 48 second split.
Canyon - 4A Boys
When the Canyon boys won the first of their back-to-back titles, they did so emphatically by only scoring 40 points ahead of runner-up La Feria's 107 points. Canyon went for a 16:33 average with a 59 second split.
That was thought to be a large margin of victory. Many figured Canyon would come back and have an easy time winning again.
However, Canyon lost two runners from the 2022 title winning squad.
The 4A boys competition did anything but accept what was thought to be a Canyon walk through the park on the way to another title. The road to the 2023 cross country podium was as tough as could be.
In 2022, Canyon was the only team that ran under 17-minutes. This year, the state meet saw six teams run under that mark.
In result, what the Canyon boys did was turn things up a notch and went for a 15:57 team average. Alexander Niemiec, Lathan Lewter, and Ryan Fernandez all finished in the top ten to help the squad defend its 4A boys title.
Houston Episcopal - SPC Girls
Competing at the AP Ranch in Fort Worth, Texas for the Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC) Championships were the Houston Episcopal girls.
They were running for back-to-back-to-back SPC Championships. After winning the first two, the target was clearly on the Lady Knights' back.
The challenge was accepted and the champs were prepared for a business meeting at the starting line with their metaphoric business suits, palm pilots, and briefcases.
Help from the calvary came with Georgia Bass putting in a top ten race performance along with Shepherd Gregg and Asher Luengas coming through in fourteenth and fifteenth place to complete the scoring.
Scoring more than half of the point total of the runner-up team and nearly 50 second faster on average safely secured the team title for the third time.
The Lucas Lovejoy had never won a girls state cross country title in the history of the school until 2021. What looks like it took forever to do is now taking a lot to undo.
The Lady Leopards have since won three consecutive UIL 5A state titles. In these past three years, Lovejoy has had a propensity to put several girls in the top three to help push the team to the top of the podium.
Returning talented runners for the following year has been a key to the success. This season will see seven seniors who will have had a hand in the three championships. Still four runners on this year's squad will return with a chance to make it a four-peat in 2024.
Flower Mound - 6A Girls
It has been a tempestuous streak of events that has defined the Flower Mound girls cross country season.
The optimism and outlook was so high on what could be after a 1, 2, 3 sweep of the individual awards last season as well as their third consecutive UIL 6A team championship.
This year, the optimism grew thinner when the defending state champion Nicole Humphries incurred what was thought to be a season ending injury.
The season would see the team lose big invitational meets to Southlake Carroll girls at Nike South and the Region 1-6A Championships. Eventually, Alexandra Fox, the third place finisher from the 2022 state meet would have to be sidelined for a nagging injury at the regional championships.
With the state meet quickly approaching, it wasn't until days before November 4th that the entire squad would be able to practice together for the first time all season long.
The streak was in jeopardy and the peaks and valleys seemed to continue to roll in and race day was finally here.
Despite the uncertainty, it was the same five scoring runners from last season's state championship who would score again this year as Flower Mound continued their impressive running and added their fourth straight UIL 6A state title.
In 2022, the 1, 2, 3, podium sweep with three girls finishing in 17:48 and faster resulted in a 42 point score and a 18:12 team average, leaving the state speechless. With only one of the top three 100% healthy in 2023, there would be no repeat sweep. However, they would only score 41 points and ran an even faster 17:52 team average.
Southlake Carroll - 6A Boys
The Southlake Carroll boys program has won three consecutive titles in a row . . . they've even won four consecutive. This season, the Carroll boys were pushing for their fifth UIL 6A state championship in a row.
That would mean, this wasn't one class or group of boys controlling the scene, but a systematic and programatic approach that would be responsible for the streak.
Runners responsible for the five wins would come and go, but each group of seven who bare the responsibility of keeping the winning ways going. The goal this year was to get the guys to buy in to doing what they could individually for the team. "They know the weight of it, they know the magnitude, and the streak that's going on," head coach Justin Leonard said.
This year's win is different from the previous four. One variation is that it came on the hinges of the individual state champion contribution from Caden Leonard. Leonard ran 15:00 to get a four second win over runner-up Hudson Haley.
Joining Leonard in the top five was Blake Bullard who finished fourth overall. Bullard was running with Leonard and Montgomery most of the race.
Next year's state meet looks to be set up nicely for another good team title chase for the Dragons. Leonard and Bullard return with the six and seven runners Griffin Cords (15:53) and Alex Severson (16:00) who were both within 60 seconds of the state champion.