Lady Panthers look for good health - and a little rain wouldn't hurt
Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor

Nov. 11, 2005 - Tim Menke will be looking for good health and little rain on Saturday.

Menke, the North Hopkins cross country coach, is sending the Lady Panthers to the state meet in search of their third consecutive Class A championship at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock.

To accomplish it, he will need a quick recovery from a couple of his girls, and a little rain wouldn't hurt.

"This team we have this year would have won state in many years, and they may very well do it again," he said. "They have a good chance of doing it, but it's a very strong year.

"We're hoping for a lot of rain because our kids are good mudders. We do well in the elements, so if it's bad weather I think that works to our advantage."

Teams from Sundown, Alvord and Thorndale are all capable of pulling off a team championship, especially if a couple of NHHS runners are still hobbling.

Sophomore Jessi Mannis, the District 22-A and Region III individual champion, is trying to work through a painful case of shin splints, and Virginia Thomas has a pulled muscle that kept her out of the regional meet.

Mannis and juniors Sabra Thomas and Rosa Fuentes have been rock solid as the top three runners for the Lady Panthers. They finished 1-2-3 at both district and regional. Junior Ebbonye Johnson has solidified the No. 4 spot, but with usual No. 5 runner Virginia Thomas being hobbled, it will be up to Katy Williams, Cayla Newkirk or possibly Kara Mannis or Megan Lehr to bring up the final scoring spot.

"It's going to take the fifth place to run closer to our fourth runner for us to win," said Williams. "We can't have a big gap."

North Hopkins has become synonymous with cross country and distancing-running excellence. The NH girls have won state in 1993, 2003 and 2004. They have accumulated eight regional championships, including four in a row.

During that time, they have also honed a mental edge that comes from tough workouts that include a seven-mile run on Mondays and a dozen 400-meter intervals on Thursdays.

"Our kids are getting pumped up," Menke said. "They'll have to take it from us to get it." 

The Lady Panthers compete at the site of the state meet every year during the regular season to acquaint themselves with the course. They also have a time-proven tactic.

"We really try to emphasize the start on the state course," Menke explained. "You really need to get a good start or you get left behind. While you're boxed in, the lead runners are pushing out. You're really at a disadvantage if you don't get a good start.

"That's one of the reasons we spend over $1,000 every year to go down there and run it. It costs our school a lot of money for us to do that, but we think it's worth it for the experience of running the course."

And the girls have in their minds the layout of the two-mile course. They know they have to go out strong and move up once they get to an incline past the one-mile mark. The girls pick out the colors of the top teams they are competing against and target those as their main targets.

Then, the year-round training they put in - which includes running camps in Colorado and Wyoming - comes into play.

"When you're up on that stage in first place, it's worth it," said Newkirk.

"It's hard to enjoy it while you're doing it (training), but it's worth it at the end to look back and see how many times you've won," Virginia Thomas added.

BOYS

Joining the girls this year will be NH junior Pedro Gonzalez, who placed third at the regional meet to earn a trip to state.

Last year, the NH boys team qualified for state, but two of the top runners were out of town on Saturday and did not run in the regional competition.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, had his best race.

"The temperature was good, and I felt pretty good. I didn't feel my best, but I worked through it," he said. "I wanted to be in the top 10. I didn't really expect third place. I was just trying my hardest to get the best out of me."

Menke, who took over coaching the boys this year, increased their workload from previous years.

"I've really upped the mileage for the boys this year," he explained. "They didn't like it at first, but they did it, and now I think they've seen their improvement."

Gonzalez will be trying to get in the top 15 at state, which would make him All-State. To do it, he may have to use the same type of kick he had over the final mile at regional, when he steadily moved up.

"I was in about 10th place until the last mile. That's when I started passing people," he said. "I didn't even know what place I was in until the last little bit. I was just running my race."

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