Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Cross country preview: Southlake Carroll has simple process -- wait your turn, win
The formula for success for a Southlake Carroll cross country runner can be simple.
Wait your turn.
Win a state championship.
It’s a process that has paid dividends the last two seasons, as coach Justin Leonard has led his girls and boys teams to back-to-back Class 5A state championships.
They’re looking to do it again Saturday in Round Rock after first-place team finishes at the Region I meet last week.
While there are exceptions, many of Southlake Carroll’s top seniors have only raced at the varsity level for one or two seasons. It speaks volumes to the depth of talent on Leonard’s junior varsity squad.
“For the most part, these kids come in knowing they are going to have to put in the work and build the base before they are going to be able to contribute,” Leonard said. “And that’s tough for the kids. But they know they’re going to train with kids who have done the same before you and you get the opportunity to run really fast later on.”
There’s no better example than senior Samantha Young, who hadn’t been a varsity runner until this season. She was Carroll’s top finisher at the Region I meet, coming in fifth with a time of 17:56.
Leonard said that’s not unusual. Five runners have graduated the last two seasons from his girls squad.
His boys team is also led by a new face this season, senior Jacob Pickle, who was Southlake Carroll’s No. 5 runner last season. Pickle was the Region I champion at 14:52.
Leonard credits his team’s recent success at the state meet to its mantra. If you’re going to leave your mark on the program, do it on the biggest stage.
“We talk about the state meet every day,” Leonard said. “It’s what every kid trains for. They know that’s the expectation, and they really thrive on it.”
Frisco Wakeland senior peaking:
Turner Pool didn’t have to show up at cross country workouts last summer. The Frisco Wakeland senior had a strained hip tendon from a track workout in the spring that would keep him out of competition until late September.
But Pool showed up anyway, riding his bike alongside teammates.
“Even though he couldn’t run, he was still out there,” coach Davis Tidwell said. “He was letting his presence be known, displaying his leadership.”
Before his injury, Pool had been Tidwell’s top runner the last three seasons, placing 27th at the 2012 state meet. As the team’s lone senior this season, he’s taken a backseat to talented underclassmen. Wakeland won the 4A Region II title last week with Pool as its fifth runner.
But since doctors cleared Pool for competition on Sept. 23, he’s climbing back to No. 1 form. His first race back was clocked at 19:08. He’s since cut that time down to 16:42.
“I don’t know many people [who] could walk out on the course with minimal training and run a 19 flat, and then shave off almost 21/2 minutes in two weeks,” Tidwell said. “And he turns it on when there’s more pressure.”
Wakeland’s 4A Region II victory was its first in school history. Tidwell said he hopes his team will enter state with a steady confidence.
“We were happy to get down there to just see what happens last season,” Tidwell said. “This year, they have the confidence that they’re one of the top teams in all four regions. Why can’t we go down there and get on the podium? Why can’t we go down there and take it all?”
Expectations at Kaufman rise:
Following the Kaufman boys’ 3A state championship in 2011, coach Denver Stone witnessed a change of attitude within his program.
Participation numbers are up. The athletes are motivated for another trip to the podium.
Both Kaufman teams placed first at the 3A Region II meet. It’s the boys’ fifth consecutive trip to state, and the girls’ first regional championship.
“We ran more miles this year per week than we did even when we won state,” Stone said. “The kids just knew we needed more to keep the level of the program up. We push them as coaches, but there’s a lot of intrinsic motivation there.”
Those extra miles are part of a culture shift that has impacted the girls’ squad as well. Coach Kristal Harris smiles every time she hears students chatter in the hallways about how they should join the cross country team.
“We just try to start developing them young and keep them in there,” Harris said. “That state championship really helps inspire them.”
BOYS TEAMS TO WATCH
Plano West: The Wolves are making their second straight trip to state for the first time in school history, thanks in large part to junior Jason Vincze and senior Drew Megura, their top two runners in the 5A Region II meet.
Frisco Wakeland: The Wolverines took the 4A Region II crown by a 47-point margin over traditional power Highland Park. Their top two runners are underclassmen — sophomore Justin King and freshman Cameron King.
Keller: Senior Austen Dalquist, the Indians’ No. 1 runner, gets his first trip to state after his team finished third in the 5A Region I meet.
Lovejoy: In its second season running in 4A, Lovejoy is looking to improve on its seventh-place state finish from last season. The Leopards are led by junior Grant Ballard, who placed seventh at the Region II meet.
Sanger: The Indians team that placed fifth at state last season returns four seniors, including Jacob Perry, who placed third at the 3A Region II meet.
GIRLS TEAMS TO WATCH
Flower Mound: The Jaguars finished six points behind two-time defending state champion Southlake Carroll in the 5A Region I meet. Junior Safiya Belbina placed second overall.
Highland Park: Despite placing second at the 4A Region II meet, Highland Park should still be a favorite to defend its state title. Senior Natalie Rathjen leads the way after winning the individual regional title.
Hebron: The Hawks will look to improve on their fifth-place state finish from last season. Junior Megan Montgomery and sophomore Anna Elkin both notched top-15 finishes at the 5A Region I meet.
Mansfield Legacy: The Broncos edged out traditional power Highland Park by a single point at the 4A Region II meet, earning a trip to state. Senior Maria Castillo placed fourth and was one of just five runners to crack the 19-minute mark.
Melissa: Four Melissa runners placed among the top 25 at the 3A Region II meet, earning a third-place team finish and a spot at state. Seniors Ashley New and Jackii Thomas were the Cardinals’ top runners.
BOYS RUNNERS TO WATCH
Zachariah Hamstra, Flower Mound: The senior placed third at the 5A Region I meet and will join senior Wesley Ward as Flower Mound’s state representatives.
Chase Van Voorhis, Hebron: Hebron was 22 points short of qualifying for state, but not because of Van Voorhis. The senior placed seventh at the 5A Region I meet, making his first trip to state.
Carter Blunt, Frisco Heritage: As a freshman, Blunt finished 23rd at the state meet. He will return to Round Rock this season after taking third at the 4A Region II meet.
Colby Kuehler, Denton Guyer: The senior was the only Dallas-area runner to break into the top 10 at the 4A Region I meet, taking sixth place.
Jacob Perry, Sanger: The senior will look to improve on his fifth-place finish at state from last season.
GIRLS RUNNERS TO WATCH
Ashley Johnson, Arlington Martin: The sophomore improved her 5A Region I meet time by more than a minute from last season for an eighth-place finish.
Kellee McCann, Justin Northwest: The senior missed out on state last season following a poor performance at the 5A Region I meet, but found redemption Saturday with a first-place finish.
Abigail Cartwright, Bryan Adams: The senior will look to build off her state meet performance last season, where she placed 16th.
Caylon McMillan, Forney: The sophomore is making her second straight trip to state, where she will join teammate senior Kiana Hawn.
Paulena Lynch, Carrolton Ranchview: The senior is making her first trip to state after winning the 3A Region II title.
UIL state cross county schedule
Saturday at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock