If the saying heavy lies the head that wears the crown is true, then the Canyon girls cross country team is heading to the state meet in Round Rock carrying a lot of extra weight.
Canyon enters today’s Class 4A state meet at Old Settler’s Park as the defending state champion and has realistic expectations of bringing home some individual and team hardware again. Today’s race at noon will determine if Canyon meets those expectations.
For coach Ray Baca, today is all about the bottom line.
“At this point of the season times aren’t as important as where you finish,” Baca said.
And Canyon has gotten awfully used to finishing on the gold medal stand. After winning state last year, Canyon’s girls followed that up by winning the District 3-4A and Region I-4A titles at Lubbock’s Mae Simmons Park, assuring their return to Round Rock this weekend.
There are no seniors on this year’s team, which isn’t bad news. Sophomore Breanna Stuart finished second individually last year and won district and region individual titles this year, and juniors Gabi Davis and Camryn Melton both return this year as well.
“It’s always good to know that you’re going to have kids coming back,” Baca said. “Just having seniors doesn’t mean it’s always going to be a great situation.”
Canyon’s top two individual finishers last year, Stuart and Davis are both back this year. Davis notched a top 10 finish last year, placing ninth.
Expectations to bring another state title home remain high, and Davis says the team is shooting for nothing less than gold.
“There’s a lot of pressure for us to stay in first,” Davis said. “If we don’t we’ll definitely be disappointed. We have this experience so we know we can do this.”
Stuart is the most likely Canyon runner to bring back an individual gold medal and she ran an 11:28.50 at the region meet. For the last two years, she’s been first among equals on the team.
She thinks if she sets the pace that her teammates will respond.
“It’s not really pressure,” Stuart said. “I feel if I do my part everyone will follow. I believe they trust me.”
On paper, Stuart has to be considered the individual favorite, She’s the top returning finisher from 4A this year, putting a target on her back for the rest of the state.
“I believe it’s pretty realistic,” Stuart said of winning individual gold. “I’m just going to try to run my own race. Last year I didn’t run my own race and that cost me in the end.”
It hasn’t been easy to return to this point for Stuart or her teammates. In the middle of the season, Stuart was set back by a lung infection and there are other injuries on the team, putting any championship aspirations in doubt.
But Davis said the team never lost confidence.
“We looked at it like we were going to recover,” Davis said. “We couldn’t let anything drag us down.”
It’s been an entirely new season since the district meet. Freshman Abree Winfrey has come on during this period, as she finished second to Stuart at the region meet.
Now the possibility of repeating as state champs seems that much more realistic.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” Melton said. “The thing we learned is to lean on your teammates. They’re there to help you along in the process.”
The Canyon girls will have some company as the Canyon boys. Like the girls, the boys can boast an individual regional champion, as Samuel Ashley won the gold in Lubbock in 14:46.90.
Ashley, a junior, has won every race he’s entered this season.
“My goal for state is to win and that’s everybody’s ultimate goal but I’m so focused to just make it from region to state this year,” Ashley said. “I’ll be happy to get on the medal stand.”
Ashley led Canyon to a fourth place finish in Lubbock, good enough for a team berth at state.
“We were fifth last year so we thought we could make a run if we could get someone to the podium,” Canyon boys coach Wes Kirton said.
Here’s a look at area competitors in the other classes.
Randall’s girls go with a second place team finish at the region meet. Ariyah Gomez won bronze at regionals to lead Randall.
“I think we surprised a lot of people,” Randall coach Rebekah James said. “We run really hard so we don’t really have fresh legs most of our meets, but we still stepped it up in regionals.”
Gomez, a sophomore, ran a 17:50.40 to get on the podium, raising her expectations for today’s 1:10 p.m. race.
“I want to finish at least in the top five,” Gomez said. “I’m just going to stay confident.”
Amarillo High’s girls finished fourth in the team standings at regioanls to reach state as a team, led by Cammie Mitchell’s ninth place finish. Two Amarillo High boys, Branch Cox and Isaac McGill, qualified as individuals.
Tulia’s Alexis Trammel and Bushland’s Tatum Fish qualified as individuals for the girls, and Dimmitt’s Jordan Garcia made it for the boys.
Gruver and Wellington both qualifed their girls teams. West Texas High’s Macy Higginbotham, Panahndle’s Bryleigh McGill an Sunray’s Katelyn Hernandez all qualified as individuals.
On the boys side, Panhandle’s Elijah Brown qualified as a gold medalist (as did Wellington’s Kyla Kane for the girls) and Clarendon’s Kenny Overstreet also made it.
Happy and Nazareth both qualified as teams for the girls. Valley’s Lana Belmares and Claude’s Alyssa Higgs both made it as individuals.
For the boys, Shamrock’s Alex Wilson qualified as a region gold medalist and Texline’s Stratton Potter goes as a bronze winner.