NH boys, girls both competing at Round Rock
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Nov. 11, 2004 - The challenges are different for the North Hopkins boys and girls cross country teams on Saturday, but the goals are the same.

The Lady Panthers will be trying to repeat as Class A state champions, while the boys will be looking for their first state championship.

The teams will run at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock, with the girls starting their two-mile course at 1:20 p.m. Saturday and the boys setting off on their 3.1-mile route 20 minutes later. Both teams won the Class A, Region III championships last weekend.

It was the seventh regional championship for the girls, and the first for the boys in any sport.

Now, the runners and coaches have their eyes set on Round Rock.

GIRLS

North Hopkins compiled just 21 points in running away with the regional title, but coach Tim Menke knows the state meet won't be so easy. Menke has coached NH to two state championships - 1993 and 2003 - and had an individual champion in 1999 with Tracie Akerhielm.

"You have three teams, I feel, who are going to be in the hunt," Menke said. "There could be an outside team you don't know about, but you have to figure on us, Sundown and Alvord."

North Hopkins is the No. 1-ranked team in the state, Sundown is second and Alvord third. In winning the state title last year, the Lady Panthers edged Sundown by five points.

In cross country, the cumulative total of the teams' top five runners figure in their score. Menke said in figuring the regional times, North Hopkins and Sundown are virtually even.

"In runners one through five, Sundown and we have the same spread, 1:04 at regional," he said. "They're a very talented team. We beat them by five points last year, and it should be another very close race."

Menke's team is talented as well.

Top runner Kate Hollenshead is running times comparable to the top 4A and 5A runners in the state and is being noticed by Division I colleges after running an 11:33 at the regional meet. Last year as a junior, she placed second at state. Close behind her all year has been sophomore Sabra Thomas.

Rounding out the seven-person team is junior Rose Fuentes, sophomore Ebbonye Johnson, freshman Jessi Mannis, senior Sara Weir and junior Katy Williams.

They are backed up by strong JV and junior high teams.

The girls report at 6 a.m. on school days to get their training in. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, they run between four and seven miles. On Tuesdays and Thursdays come the hard interval workouts.

"It's fun," said Thomas. "Some people think all you do is run, but it's fun for us. Meets are fun, practice is a different story."

The girls run virtually year-round, starting their cross country training in June and ending in November. After cutting down their mileage during basketball season, they start again in late winter to prepare for track season.

But, now, their focus is on Saturday.

"I feel that we have to have our top five in the top 25 overall," said Hollenshead. "All of our runners have to be close together. We can't be all spread out."

Their mindset when it comes to competing with Sundown and Alvord: "You get a good look at the uniform," said Hollenshead, "and you don't let anyone with that color pass you."

BOYS

While the NH boys don't enjoy a similar high ranking as the Lady Panthers, their goal is the same.

"Obviously, we'd like to win state and want to win state. That's what we're going down there to do," said coach Brandon Ely. "We'd like to place higher than we ever have in the seven times before, which would be sixth or better. That's what I'm hoping for them."

The Panthers won the regional title by grouping their runners closely together. There was a span of 1 minute, 36 seconds between their top five runners.

Adam Vitro, Raul Delgado, Pedro Gonzales, Jake Cockrum and Travis Tatum were the top five at regional, with Tito Fuentes and Nick Tamsma rounding out the squad.

"Our strong point is we all stay together, mostly," Vitro said. "We're all going to run hard."

Like the girls, the Panthers run distance three days a week and do hard interval training on Tuesday and Thursday. And, they also train year-round.

"They have worked hard, going all the way back to last spring," Ely said. "The last week of school is really the only time they've taken off. They've never gotten lazy or not shown up or not worked hard. They all work as hard as they can every day."

To place in the top three at state and have a chance for a championship, Ely said the top two or three runners need to be under 18 minutes and the others need to be close to that mark. On the flat, fast regional course, three runners were under 18:00, led by Vitro who placed fifth in 17:18.

"It feels good when you beat everybody. You train hard and then you get that achievement," he said.

But, all the runners said training together is what makes the team strong.

"It helps having someone push you, having a teammate run with you," said Cockrum.

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