Written by SportsDayDFW.com
Cross country: Sanger hopes to topple nemesis
Boys and girls combined, the Sanger cross country team has made five trips to the state meet in the past four years.
The Indians have won numerous regular-season meets and have become a perennial powerhouse within their region.
One thing Sanger hasn't won during that span: a district title.
Sanger hopes to change that when it competes on Wednesday in the District 9-3A meet against rival Argyle, which has been one of the state's top programs, regardless of classification, in recent years.
"I think both groups [boys and girls] are the best we've ever been," said Sanger head coach Clint Davidson. "Even though you lose somebody every year, somebody else steps up."
One key for the Indians toward their improvement has been the approach to cross country as a team sport, where the finish of the seventh-best runner could be just as vital in the standings as the first.
That attitude extends from the more experienced runners to the underclassmen, who are taught the traditions and expectations of the program as early as the middle school level.
Davidson, in his fifth season at the school, oversees the cross country program for the entire Sanger ISD, extending to the middle school, and has seen participation numbers increase across the board.
"We don't just run for ourselves anymore. We run for each other," said senior Marcus Richroath. "We make the freshmen and sophomores feel included in everything we do."
Some of the team's veterans -- including Richroath and juniors Derek Key and Colt Carlton -- share a friendly bond away from running that also helps them know their teammates' running styles and tendencies during a race. Richroath and Key are strong starters, while Carlton typically starts slower but finishes faster.
"Now that we're older and we all drive, everything we do, we normally do it together," said Richroath, who won the Reunion Run in Decatur earlier this season.
The boys team made it to state in 2008 but fell short last year, in part because Key was nursing a hip injury. But with Key back at full strength, the Indians have seen improved results throughout 2010.
"We keep everything together more," Key said. "You don't really know who will be our top runner because we're so close."
The Sanger girls, meanwhile, have been to state four straight years, led by senior Kortney Ceballos, who finished 23rd in the state a year ago. The Lady Indians have won the team title this season at meets in Decatur, Arlington and Round Rock.
Davidson credits the development of the girls team not only to the leadership of Ceballos, but to their commitment to running in a pack for about the first mile of each race.
"The girls are working more as a group," Davidson said. "They push each other."
In the past few years, Sanger has been good enough to win almost any other 3A district in the state, but the Indians always have been paired with Argyle, both at the district meet and at regionals.
"It's almost like having three state meets in a row," Carlton said.
This year's district meet, which will be held at Copperas Branch Park in Highland Village, should be the most tightly contested yet between the two schools.
The Eagles no longer have elite state champions such as Stephen Curry, who is now at Texas A&M, and Kristie Krueger, who runs at Georgia. Sanger, meanwhile, hopes its returning depth will help it prevail.
Both schools have been running against tough competition for much of the season, including meets against 5A opponents on many weekends.
Such an example came at the final district tuneup for each school at the Rick Neill Invitational on Oct. 16 in Lewisville, when the Argyle boys finished fourth and Sanger was fifth. Jake Roberts came in 12th place to lead the Eagles, while Carlton led the Indians in 17th place, about 13 seconds behind.
On the girls side at the same race, Sanger earned a fifth-place finish while Argyle was ninth. Ceballos led five Sanger runners in the top 50 with her 15th-place showing, while the Lady Eagles had three runners in the top 50.
Davidson calls the rivalry between Sanger and Argyle in cross country a friendly one, with the runners showing mutual respect for one another before and after races.
"Argyle has really helped us out," Davidson said. "It's great to have that competition. That caliber of running makes you run faster."
TODD JORGENSON can be reached at 940-566-6871. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.