JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE STAFF
MARBLE FALLS — The Burnet and Marble Falls high school cross-country teams have been preparing for the Region IV meets this week.
Both will compete Nov. 1 at the National Shooting Complex, 7504 Gass Road in San Antonio.
The Class 5A girls will run at 10 a.m. followed by the Class 5A boys at 10:30 a.m. The course is 3.2 miles. The Class 4A girls follow at 11 a.m. with a two-mile race followed by the Class 4A boys at 11:20 a.m. on a 3.2-mile course.
Marble Falls will be represented by Tess Johnson and James Ramos, while Burnet’s girls team and District 25-4A boys champion Drew Kiser will compete.
The University Interscholastic League made a change both programs’ coaches believe will benefit their runners.
Starting this year, the top 10 runners who are not attached to a state-qualifying team can move on to the state meet. This would apply to Johnson, Ramos and Kiser, who all qualified for the regional tournament individually.
“They’re giving the kids an opportunity who’ve worked hard to get to state,” Marble Falls head coach Anthony Torns said.
The strategy for the Mustangs remains the same. Torns told Johnson and Ramos to find the top 10 runners in each race and stay with them.
“Refuse to move out of the top 10,” he said. “We’re going to find that sweet spot. We’re going to stay focused on moving forward and not going backward.”
Two of the top three Class 5A female runners include San Antonio Alamo Heights’ Abby Gray and Gem Sanchez of Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders. They’re finishing 5K runs in 18 minutes.
“After them, it’s a very competitive field,” Torns said. “You don’t have a bunch of girls running in the low to mid-19s. It’s going to be a very competitive race.”
Torns told Ramos the goal is to drop 30-40 seconds off his time, and the coach believes that’s possible on this course because it has low and flat straightaways.
Burnet head coach Stuart Dixon said that even though the Bulldogs changed from Region I to Region IV, the competition has not changed.
Liberty Hill, which is the District 25-4A champion this year and in the same division with Burnet, was ranked No. 1 in the state last year. The Panthers are ranked No. 1 again.
Still, Dixon acknowledges the course and the weather will be different in San Antonio than it was in Lubbock.
In addition, Burnet has already raced against Bandera and Fredericksburg, the other top squads in the region.
“We’re fortunate to have beaten Bandera and Fredericksburg,” he said. “You never know what happens on certain days. I feel like we have the ability to compete for one of the four spots.”
The Lady Dawgs will be paced by Abby Bullock and Autumn Freasier. Dixon said he believes they have the best chance to advance to the state meet as individuals as well. Had the UIL qualifying change been in place a year ago, Bullock would have advanced in 2013, he said. Bullock posted a 12:03 at the Round Rock McNeil Invitational, the site of the state meet, earlier in October to finish in the top 10. Because the invitational was conducted on the state meet course, it drew most of the top squads in the state.
“As for the team, I don’t think we all have to have career days from what we’ve done in the past,” Dixon said. “Our differential has to be smaller. The girls can run what they’ve done in the past; they have to better their times just a tad.”
Like Bullock, had the qualifying rule been in place last year, Kiser would have advanced to the state meet.
“Drew doesn’t have to have a career day,” Dixon said. “Region IV is faster than Region I on the guys’ side. Once again, Drew has run against the guys in this region. He needs to do what he can do and finish in the top 10.”