Up the hill

Brazos’ Zachary Cortez and Brayden Hanzelka running in the Brazos Cross Country Invitational last week in Wallis.

Fort Bend County high school cross country teams can already turn their focus to district meets after an abbreviated start.

Next week, all five area districts will hold their district cross country meets over the week of Oct. 26.

The first meet will be Monday for District 24-3A with Brazos and East Bernard among the field in Wallis.

Wednesday will feature the District 20-6A and District 24-5A.

George Ranch, Travis, Ridge Point, Dulles, Clements, Austin, Elkins and Bush will run at Sugar Land Memorial Park.

Foster, Fulshear, Lamar Consolidated, Terry, Hightower, Marshall, Willowridge and Kempner will be running at Seabourne Creek Nature Park in Rosenberg for the 24-5A meet.

On Thursday, Needville will travel to Bay City for the District 25-4A meet.

Here is a closer look at each district race:

District 20-6A

George Ranch joins seven Fort Bend ISD schools to compete for the 20-6A crown.

The district has been a revolving door for champions recently.

Elkins is the reigning boys’ champions, with Ridge Point, Clements and Travis switching in previous years.

Clements and Ridge Point have split the past four titles on the girls’ side.

But the Longhorns bring plenty of experience to the 20-6A field.

“Currently consistent, our top five runners are a junior, Haely Harkrider, two sophomores, Ava Curtis and Madison Haldiman, and two freshmen Kacey Ehlen and Hayley Moffett,” Head coach Alicia Dutch said. “We had a two-time state qualifying transfer come (from Clements), Haley Harkrider, that has helped lead our team.

Dutch’s squad is seeking its 10th straight district title between the Longhorns’ time in 5A and 6A.

“I never get comfortable with district as I feel we can always be a state-bound team with the right pieces of the puzzle put together,” Dutch said before the season. “We are way faster as a team historically since the school opened up, but this year we can be in the big hunt and surprise some folks and make it to state as a team if everyone does their part.”

Travis is seeking to have its fourth straight trip to regionals.

“We still have a pretty young group of boys; we are leaning on the experience we do have to try and make improvements on last year,” Travis cross country coach Wes Woodruff said. “In my opinion, we are in the toughest region in the state.”

Travis’ top returner is junior Ian Price, who finished fifth overall last season.

“Ian is a great runner in a tough district and region,” Woodruff said. “I think he has a lot of potential and has grown as a young man and a runner in the past three and a half years.

“I am hoping he can hit his stride in the middle part of the season and carry that on to the state meet.”

District 24-5A

The District 24-5A meet has more questions than answers overall.

The reigning boys’ district champion, Manvel, was realigned to a new district, and girls champion Foster graduated their top two finishers, Maddie and Macie Ellis.

“The Ellis’ had an incredible work ethic as I’ve never seen before,” Foster cross country coach Julie Yeager said. “They did higher mileage than most, were dedicated to a healthy diet, and ultimately trusted the process.

“I know they had a significant impact on our younger runners, and the team they left behind is hungry for state.

“I believe the team this year understands what it will take and the job that has to be done at Regionals to earn a trip to the State Championships in Round Rock.”

The Lady Falcons will be led by a pair of sophomores: Kaitlyn Walsh and Mickayla Tosch.

“(The team is) young, but they are competitive, and they care about each other,” Yeager said. “I think Mickayla Tosch and Kaitlyn Walsh will continue to lead the team.

“Morgan Molina is another runner who has been on our team the past few years participating on junior varsity, but she has shown up and shown out this year and is making a huge difference for us. I think she could be near the top at district.”

The Falcons do have the top boys returner with senior Caden Cunningham.

Cunningham will hope to take the first set toward state on Wednesday.

The Falcons’ most recent race was the Deer Park ISD Invitational, where Cunningham helped the Falcons finish third in a field that includes both 6A and 5A programs.

The senior Falcons was second overall in the 5,000-meter varsity Division 2 race with a time of 16:08.39.

The Foster boys had five runs in total in the top 20.

Terry competed in the Deer Park event and junior Christopher Serrano posting a top 20 time of 19:24.46.

Lady Ranger freshman Betsy Hernandez was the top finisher for the girls with a 32nd place time at 25:19.89.

For Lamar Consolidated, freshman Grant Simnacher posted a time of 20:55 for a top 15 finish in a 5,000-meter run at the Bay City Blackcat Invitational.

The biggest questions entering the district meet will be the additions of Fulshear and Kempner.

Dr. Kevin Kean, a head coach of the Fulshear boys, is confident in his team’s ability to make the jump up to 5A.

“I don’t see our move up to 5A as a detrimental challenge. When we train, we don’t train for the classification we are in; we train to be the best team we can be,” Kean said. “So, no matter who the competition is, we can be victorious as a group. I don’t see our move up being a problem for us to achieve our goals.”

The Fulshear boys return four runners that finished in the top 15 in the district three-mile race last season, including senior Edward Tongee that was third overall.

“I believe that we can be contenders for the district championship,” Kean said. “We have the work ethic, team spirit and determination to make it happen. Our ultimate goal is always to get to state, but we believe we can be on top of our way there.”

The Fulshear girls have senior Briana Roberson leading the way after she medaled at state last year.

District 25-4A

The realignment also affected the landscape for Needville.

Fulshear is no longer in 4A to push the Blue Jays for the district title, leaving the door wide open for a sweep by Needville.

The Lady Jays are seeking to extend a nine-year streak as district champions.

The Lady Jays had multiple underclassmen helped them win a district title last season.

“My girls work extremely hard, never complain, and push themselves to limits that amaze me,” Needville head coach Cally Croft said. “It makes my job more fun knowing I get to have this young group back.”

On the boys’ side, Needville has to replace multiple graduated seniors, but the Jays and Croft are ready for the challenge.

“A challenge is only what people may see, but my boys are working hard, and I have had some kids step up, and other teams will be surprised how we bounced back from losing those seniors,” Croft said.

Unfortunately, Needville will be without sophomore Tristan Drury in 2020. The state qualifier will be out with an injury sustained this offseason.

“She will be missed, and I hope to have her for her junior and senior year,” Croft said.

District 24-3A

It is a return to the familiar for Brazos as the Cougars return to the 3A field to battle with East Bernard for the cross country crown.

Both teams, along with Boling, Van Vleck and Hempstead, got a preview of the District 24-3A course at Brazos High School in Wallis.

The Brahmarettes enter the field as the reigning championship while Boling holds the title for the boys.

Brazos head coach Eric Stuessel is confident in his program, which has reached state 19 of the last 21 years.

“We are prepared to compete regardless of which classification we are in,” Stuessel said. “We were in class 2A for only the past two seasons, so the only difference is that the schools that we will compete against at district, regional, and state have more students enrolled.”

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