Varsity Cross Country Races at Statewide McNeil Invite

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  • Junna Castel ’20 turns the corner towards the end of her race. Photo Courtesy of Hector Lomeli

  • Gabbi Wallace ’22 focuses on the ground while running next to a competing Vandegrift girl. Photo Courtesy of Hector Lomeli

  • Gavin Thomas ’21, Coaches Kim Payten and Doug Davalos, and Pablo Lomeli ’21 pose for a picture following the Boys’ Gold race. Photo Courtesy of Hector Lomeli

  • While running through the rain, Zach Shrull ’19 focuses on the race ahead. Photo Courtesy of Hector Lomeli

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On Saturday, Sept. 28, over 7,000 athletes from across Texas traveled to Old Settlers Park to go toe-to-toe with one another in one of the most competitive races in the country. This year, the Warriors were able to attend this prestigious meet with runners competing across multiple races.

Held once each season, the McNeil Invite gives athletes the perfect chance to set a personal record (PR) and run alongside the very best on the course used later in the season for the state championship. Several runners managed to drop times well under 15 minutes in the 5K, an achievement very rarely seen in normal races.

“The competition at this meet was brutal, and it was really difficult to pass anyone at the beginning,” Aryan Patel ‘19 said. “The course itself wasn’t too bad, so this will definitely be a learning experience for me going into districts.”  

The running started with the Girl’s Gold race, with a crowded field of nearly 600 competitors. Rachel Iyer ‘22 was the only Warrior to compete in the Gold Division, and was rewarded with a time of 21 minutes and 16 seconds, nearly 60 seconds quicker than her previous PR.

“I was really scared at the beginning [of the race] because I usually just follow KK [Jenkins ‘20],” Iyer said. “Once I started, I really enjoyed the course and pushed myself at the end.”

Then came the Boy’s Gold race, with an equally packed field. Intermittent rain made the conditions less than favorable for the Warriors, but some still crossed the line with a PR nevertheless. Pablo Lomeli ‘21 was the first Warrior to finish, beating all but two runners from RRISD with a time of 15 minutes and 41 seconds. Nima Ashtari ‘20 finished about 40 seconds later, in 16 minutes and 19 seconds. Both Ashtari and Lomeli are ranked among the top 10 runners in RRISD, with solid chances of advancing to regionals at the end of the season. Bryce Limbacher ‘21, had the largest PR of the group, lowering his time by 34 seconds to 17 minutes and 56 seconds, making this the first race the sophomore ran in under 18 minutes. Although the boys are improving, they will need to stay diligent to perform at district.

“Our goal for this race was to run strong as a team, and finish with a good time to prepare for district,” Zachary Shrull ‘19 said. “I think our team has a serious chance to make it to regionals, possibly even further.”

Runners who did not race in the Gold Division competed in the normal Varsity Division. Megan Luu ‘21 had her best race of the season, resetting her PR at 21 minutes and 10 seconds. The girls’ team has seen tremendous growth over the course of the season, and hopes to continue the trend moving forward.

“If you work hard, it can take you places you never knew before,” Lomeli said. “I couldn’t be more happy with the team’s performance, and in the weeks to come you may spot another article titled ‘XC team makes regionals for the first time in 30 years’.”

Both teams have two weeks until the RRISD District meet, which will take place at Old Settlers Park on Thursday, Oct. 11. Runners placing in the top 10 at this meet can go on to contend for spots in the regional and then state meets.