Prior to her runners hosting the District 7-4A cross country meet on Oct. 9, Stephenville Coach Kristi Mayes had a message for her team.
“I told my kids history is in your hands today,” she said. “Then, they went out and made history.
“People say there's not a lot of emotion in cross country, but they've never been to a meet with Stephenville. We get pumped up about our cross country.”
And with good reason.
Both the Honeybees and the Yellow Jackets won the district team championships, something that hadn't been done in at least a quarter century, Mayes said. Now, they have their sights set on even more history as they prepare to compete in the Class 4A Region I Meet at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock Monday.
Mayes said no team from Stephenville has ever advanced to state, but she thinks this could be the year that changes. Last season the Honeybees were fifth at regionals, and the top four teams advance to state in Round Rock Nov. 3, along with the top 10 individuals not on a state-qualifying team.
“We've got some good teams between us and state, but we're definitely in the mix,” Mayes said. “The girls are running great, and the boys have come on really strong.”
Presley Wall, now a sophomore, narrowly missed a berth at state last season for the Honeybees, finishing one spot shy at regionals. Emily Kirbo, a senior this season, was three spots out.
“Being so close last year has been a driving force this season,” Mayes said. “It's kind of the elephant in the room.”
Wall won the 7-4A meet with a time of 12 minutes, 47.57 seconds over 3,200 meters. Kirbo was second with a 12:48.78 clocking.
Mayes said both have the potential to become the first girl to reach state since Allison Woerner more than a decade ago.
Meanwhile, last season, Christian Brown, now a senior, qualified for state for the Stephenville boys in 2017. He was second at the district meet this season, posting a time of 17:45.48 over the 5,000-meter boys course.
“Christian is running strong, and he knows what it takes to get there,” Mayes said. “Luis (Carillo, a senior this season) went with him last season as a running partner, and that was on purpose, to light a fire under him.”
Carillo placed sixth in district.
Meanwhile, Mayes also likes the possibilities of sophomore Daniel Osornio among the boys (fifth at district) and freshman Amiah Rodriguez among the girls (sixth at district).
“We're going to have three runners on the girls and boys with shots at advancing,” she said. “It is exciting to watch those youngsters.”
This season the Honeybees' team highlights include:
— Fourth in the Class 6A Division at the Kennedale Wildcat Run.
— Second in 4A at the Burleson Elk Run.
— First in 4A at Keene.
— Fifth in the Lubbock ISD Invitational.
— Second in their own Thrill of the Hill Meet.
The Yellow Jackets' team highlights include:
— Fourth in 4A at Burleson.
— Second in 4A at Keene.
— Third at Thrill of the Hill.
District was Wall's third individual victory this season. She was also second in the Thrill of the Hill meet.
District was Kirbo's best finish in 2018. She was third at Keene and fourth in the Honeybees' own meet.
Brown also had top-five finishes at Burleson (second) and Keene (fourth). Carillo was fifth at Keene and the Thrill of the Hill.
As for girls Class 4A state rankings, Wall is second in the 3,200 distance. Kirbo is 14th and Rodriguez is 20th. Among the boys, Brown is ranked 15th in the state.
In Region I of Class 4A, Wall is second, Kirbo ninth, and Rodriguez 10th. Brown is seventh and Carillo is 15th.
Mayes said the team is showing the benefits of a tough schedule, one that saw the teams compete against squads from larger classifications.
“I was just trying to prepare the road for the kiddos to be mentally tough, especially girls running that extra mile (5,000 meters in some races), and with the boys we were challenging the pace,” she said. “For both, we've been preparing to run at regionals, to get that extra push.
“That's why we made the decision a few years ago to host our meet. It's a lot like the regional course, and it helps that we hosted district this year.”
Along with the already tough course, the teams had to contend with inclement weather that created wet and muddy conditions.
“Can you imagine running that course with wet shoes and muddy feet, heavy legs?” Mayes said. “We had runners collapsing at the finish line it was so tough.”
It will take a similar toughness to succeed at regionals, she said.
“It's going to take a lot of grit for anybody on that course. The good thing is we've already run those conditions,” Mayes said. “I’m excited about where these teams are headed.”