Depth is a precious commodity in any team sport, even cross country where runners don't have to score points to effect the outcome of the team standings.
Each team's top five runners score points, while the sixth and seventh runners try to displace point scorers from other schools. Finishing fast is important, but so is finishing together, denying other schools to break up your scoring and steal points for themselves.
For Stephenville's boys, depth is especially good, with up to seven high school runners - both varsity and junior varisty - finishing within 51 seconds of team leader Brady Cupps at last week's Glen Rose Invitational at Dinosaur Valley State Park.
Cupps, Riley Forehand, Michael Fick, Renato Rios and Santi Gallego, Stephenville's five runners who contributed to the team score, all finished in the top 10. Garrett Cole was 12th and Brandon Dark 23rd, helping to displace others.
But it didn't stop there. Lupe Espinoza and Drew Patterson claimed the top two spots in the junior varsity race, leading the Jackets to first-place in that division, too. Their times were good enough to place between Rios and Gallego on the varsity team.
"My JV kids know that if at anytime they beat a varsity runner in a meet, they switch spots. So if you can beat somebody out, you take their spot the next week," said Stephenville head coach Kristi Mayes. "Espinoza and Patterson) will run with the varsity when we go to Round Rock on October 5."
The coach says such fierce competition for varsity spots makes everyone better.
"There is so much motivation to maintain your varsity position or to move up, and that helps tremendously," Mayes said. "Sometimes players or runners get complacent, and this way they can't. They have to keep working."
Cupps, who placed third individually to lead Stephenville to the team title in Glen Rose, finished in 17:54. Cole, Stephenville's sixth varsity runner and the event's 12th finisher, crossed the line 51 seconds later in 18:45. Espinoza and Patterson finished the JV race on the same course in 18:40 and 18:44, respectively.
"I feel like whoever we put in there, we are able to pack run pretty effectively," Mayes said. "Pack running is crucial because even though we may not win first or second individually, if we finish high and finish together, we can still win meets."
Mayes said the pack-running mindset has also carried over to her girls team that is looking to defend its District 7-3A championship. Ashtin Ivey placed second last week in 12:46, 30 seconds faster than Kalee Wright. But after Wright, who was fourth in 13:16, Monika Perez, Hannah Mabry, Peyton Wood and Indra Garcia all came in over the next 41 seconds.
"And we were without a key runner in Lariat Larner," Mayes pointed out. "She would normally finish up there around (Wright and Perez, who were fourth and fifth overall)."
Mayes says it's all part of the continued growth of the program.
"I feel like over the last few years we've grown exponentially, not just in numbers but in the way we compete," said Mayes. "What a lot of people don't realize is we start weekly team runs in May, and we work out six days each week. We work out on Saturday. A lot of people don't understand how much work these kids put in."
Mayes said peaking at the right time will be crucial for both clubs, who are again expected to battle Alvarado for district titles. The Bees edged Alvarado by five points last year, while the Jackets finished second behind an Indian team that eventually placed third at state.
"Alvarado is really good again in both boys and girls. They didn't lose anybody," Mayes said. "Our primary focus needs to be on getting out and getting good starts and continuing to build our base so that we're ready to peak and be where we need to be at district and regionals."