The Bentonville (AR) boys are just one NXR South team who has been planning and plotting to earn an automatic qualifying position to NXN; three regional non Texas teams have a chance at ending the fourteen-year long Texas reign
The history of the NXR South Regional has indubitably been a success to Texas boys teams. Only the 2007 Rogers (AR) boys were a South Region team outside of Texas who has ever automatically qualified for NXN. Since then, it hasn't even been close.
That's why few would expect this year to be any different. Well, I'm here to tell you there isn't one team to challenge the Texas boys. There are three of them.
That tempestuous ride for Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma boys teams could end this weekend.
From the north and the east come serious challengers to the Lone Star boy in the form of Bentonville (AR), Deer Creek (OK), and New Orleans Jesuit (LA) who are all equipped to grab an automatic qualifying position to NXN this year.
With only two NXN automatic qualifying berths available, It's possible that only one Texas team makes it out; while at the same time, it's also plausible neither qualifier goes to a Texas team.
It's even more strange to consider that as we are in the midst of one of the best Southlake Carroll teams in the program's history. Carroll easily qualified last year and is even better this season after winning their fifth consecutive UIL 6A title.
The Deer Creek boys are for real. This isn't their first good team, but it just might be their best ever.
They're good and they've known it from the start of the year. They came to Texas and ran at the Marcus Coach T Invitational in early September. They'd beat several DFW teams along with the back-to-back UIL 4A state champion Canyon boys. They ran a 15:36 team average that day with only a 50 second split.
Deer Creek would go on to win the OSU Cowboy Jamboree over Lovejoy, Canyon, and The Woodlands College Park.
The following meet at another national level meet, the Chile Pepper Festival, Deer Creek used a 15:51 team average to win again. Their victory was over Arkansas 6A state champs Bentonville and Texas 5A champs Lovejoy who are both in contention.
The Edmond, Oklahoma squad then won their state meet with a strong run. They showed their team depth with their No. 1 runner, senior Graham Mitchell finishing as the team's six finisher.
Deer Creek is dangerous. This confident squad isn't afraid of this stage. They've run at Nike South and NXR South before and they know what to expect. They are also regulars at the Texas Distance Festival (TDF) and are accustomed to the way the DFW boys like to run. That familiarity could be a luxury and a leg up this weekend.
The Bentonville Tigers have been on the loose for seven years. They recently added their seventh consecutive Arkansas 6A state title.
They did so by putting their five scorers in the top six individual places at state. This team has also evolved as their top runner entering the season has become their number three runner.
That could mean bad news for a squad, but it is all good for this team. James American Horse has been the leader of the den for almost two years until juniors Matthew Shelly and Owen Kelley caught fire. They finished 1 - 2 at the state meet with 15:19 and 15:21 finishes with American Horse third in 15:29.
The four and five runners had fifth and sixth place finishes at the state meet and rounded out a 15:37 team average and a 42 second split.
Bentonville began the season off with a team win at the MileSplit TX XC Invitational with a 15:57 team average and a 31 second split. They followed that up with another win in Texas at the Lovejoy XC Fall Festival with a faster 15:23 average and a better 23 second split.
The win at Lovejoy was over the UIL 5A state champs Lovejoy, the 2022 6A state meet finishers Coppell, and 2023 6A state meet qualifiers Round Rock and Katy Tompkins.
They would run a 15:53 team average and 50 second split at for second place at the Chile Pepper Festival behind Deer Creek.
Bentonville is confident and has enjoyed a successful season. They run fast and tight and that is what will be needed at Bear Branch Park on Saturday.
New Orleans Jesuit
The Jesuit boys are very good as well. They've enjoyed success over the last couple of years and even though they graduated school record holders, they still have a dangerous squad.
They ran a 15:29 team average and a 60 second split at the The Southern Showcase. That was in mid-September on a fast RunningLane Course, but on a rainy day. Leaders Brady Mullen and Leland Crawford impressively ran 15:02 and 15:09.
In another major national event, they ran the Nike XC Town Twilight Invitational in Indiana on another collegiate course. Their 15:42 team average was again impressive, but they had a not-so-good 1:20 split. The split could have been skewed by Mullen's swift 14:59; Crawford and Brady Monahan went 15:29 and 15:30 on the day.
At their state meet, they ran a 15:09 team average for three miles. That's another impressive time, but their 34 second split puts them right in the mix of seriously challenging for an automatic qualifier this weekend.
On the flip side . . . this race was just this past Monday and NXR South will be their second high level race in six days. Jesuit was unable to run easy at state thanks stiff competition from cross town competitors Brother Martin.
However, Jesuit hasn't over raced this year and their legs should still be fresh for Saturday.
|School||5K Average||1-5 split|
|Carroll High School (TX)||15:11.34||42.3|
|Bentonville High School (AR)||15:22.63||23.8|
|Austin Vandegrift (TX)||15:25.58||33.8|
|Deer Creek High School (OK)||15:32.16||48.5|
|El Paso Franklin (TX)||15:33.90||48.15|
|Katy Tompkins (TX)||15:43.30||43.12|
|McKinney Boyd (TX)||15:43.52||1:06.40|
|Round Rock (TX)||15:44.36||40.1|
|El Paso Eastwood (TX)||15:44.42||1:02.40|
|Wylie High School (TX)||15:46.23||42.48|
|Lucas Lovejoy (TX)||15:51.14||31.8|
|The Woodlands College Park (TX)||15:58.26||58.9|
Texas Teams Vying For Qualifier
Despite the uptick in strength outside the Texas borders, there are still high chances of Texas teams earning one or both of the qualifying spots.
There are two teams who have been leading the state for over the past twelve months as well as some strong contending teams. The Texas teams with the best qualifying chances this weekend are of course a few state champions, podium teams, and some close call podium misses.
Southlake Carroll won the UIL 6A state title, Lovejoy won the 5A title, and Canyon won the 4A title. Add 6A runner-up Austin Vandegrift, third place McKinney Boyd, Katy Tompkins, Cypress Bridgeland, The Woodlands College Park, El Paso Eastwood, El Paso Franklin, and Wylie.
Carroll just won their fifth team state championship and there has to be hopes of coming away with one of the best NXN finishes in team history. That history is one of a program that has qualified for NXN fourteen times failing only three times to advance out of the region.
The 2011 squad was runner-up in Portland and this year might be a let down if they don't come close to from a team who's not accustomed to not qualifying to NXN.
So, for a team that thinks that highly of themselves and has the confidence, it is almost inconceivable to think they won't qualify.
Experience from last year's NXN is a leg up for this squad as is championship running at state and the Woodbridge Cross Country Classic.
Carroll has been consistent all year long and they are fast out of the gate. That is a strength and a way they can put pressure on the other teams.
Caden Leonard, Blake Bullard, and Jude Alvarez are as good as any top three and their 15:21 team average and 43 second split at state will be tough to beat. They have run as tight as 22 seconds this season and their worse deviation on the year is 54 seconds.
Vandegrift hasn't had their best out put over the last two meets, but they have another shot at getting it right. I'd be one to argue that as impressive as they've been this season, I don't think they've run their best race yet.
They had a runner go down at the state meet, but Coach Sully will surely have a course correct by this weekend.
This is the best NXR South position in Vandegrift school history. Despite having several individual qualifiers, the team has developed immensely and has a legit shot at NXN. However, their prime coincides during the one of the best years of the entire region.
With one of the best teams in the history of the program with the most NXN berths (Carroll) in history beating them twice this year and extremely talented teams out of state, this is a very delicate situation for Vandy.
State meet runner-up Hudson Haley and teammate Dylan Schieffelin lead the way for the Vipers as they still ran a 15:29 team average and their 43 second split at state. The duo are the crucial pieces to ensuring this team's best efforts and chances.
Vandegrift runs composed and they keep a calculated first mile pace before unleashing optimum effort over the last two thirds of the race. This team is never out of it and they'll be a hard team to close out. If teams do not close hard, they will get snake bitten.