State meet coming at bad time for injured NH runners
By BOBBY "BUTCH" BURNEY | News-Telegram Sports Editor
Nov. 9, 2007 - BIRTHRIGHT - The UIL State Cross Country Meet is set for the second Saturday of November every year, but it sure is coming at a bad time for North Hopkins.
Injuries to the Lady Panthers' top runner and the Panthers' No. 2 runner have tempered the high expectations they had just a few weeks ago.
Jessi Mannis, NHHS senior who finished sixth individually the last two years, is battling a foot injury that she aggravated at last Saturday's regional race, while Erick Perez is out of Saturday's state meet with a hip injury.
The state meet is set for Saturday at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
Mannis had set her sights on winning the state championship this year after being named All-State her first three years in high school.
At last week's Class A, Region III meet, she led most of the two-mile race before being caught by defending state champion Chelsea Hermes of Lindsay with less than a half-mile to go and placing just two second behind her.
The race, though, inflamed a foot injury that has sidelined her from running this week, said coach Tim Menke.
"Jessi's been dealing with it for the last 10-12 days. We haven't been able to work her out like we've wanted to this week, so that's been a problem," Menke said. "She's a gutty kid, though, and she'll perform the best that she can."
It is, in fact, her competitiveness that could pull her through on Saturday.
"She's one of the most competitive kids I've ever coached, and her competitiveness is her greatest attribute," Menke said. "She just doesn't like to lose, in any sport, and that's carried her a long way."
Mannis won eight straight meets this season before the regional race. She has dipped under 12 minutes once, running an 11:57 at Lake Bob Sandlin. She would like to run even faster at state.
"I really want to run an 11 at state," Mannis said. "I'm hoping for an 11:40, but I don't know how fast I can go because of my foot. I feel like I have a really good chance to win, if my foot feels healthy. I just have to run not only with my legs but with my heart."
She'll likely find out quickly, because Round Rock's narrow layout means the top runners have to sprint at the start to keep from getting boxed in and losing touch with the leaders.
Mannis knows that, having placed 12th at state as a freshman while helping the team win the state championship, then finishing sixth the last two years.
She had a goal to win the individual gold this year. The injury, though, may not allow it.
"It's a do-able thing," Menke said, "if she's healthy."
North Hopkins has the regional champion, junior Jose Cadena, along with the third-place team. But, they won't have No. 2 runner Erick Perez, who missed the regional race with a hip injury.
Coach Matt Rager will take two freshmen, Brandon Joslin and Paco Castro, two sophomores, Lorenzo Rivera and Dylan Horne, and one senior, Roger Sancho, along with Cadena to the state meet.
"We were looking to go down there and win state before the injury to our second runner," said Rager. "Now, I think a top-3 finish means we've done a great job. Running with freshmen and sophomores and juniors, if we can get a medal we'll have accomplished something."
Cadena has a goal of winning the individual title, something he has a real shot at doing after claiming the Class A, Region III championship in a time of 16:50 on the 3.1-mile course. Cadena, Rivera and Sancho were members of last year's team which finished third at state.
This year, they will be trying to keep up with Poolville and Zavalla, two teams they finished behind at regional.
"Jose's goal right now is to try to win state," Rager said. "If he can do that, it'll help us out with our team goal. We need to have our second, third, fourth and fifth runner in before Poolville's fifth runner. They run as a pack really strong with their first four runners, then their fifth runner lags behind. If we can get our fifth runner in before theirs, then we have a chance."
The Panthers didn't run their best race at regional, but managed to still qualify for state. Rager said if they run like they did earlier this year at an invitational meet on the same course, then they can count on getting a medal. If not, then they probably won't.
"We're trying to get our two through five runners in a pack, and that's where we've slipped up," Rager said. "We want to get within a minute of each other. When we've done that, we've had good results. When we're not within a minute of each other, we give other teams an opportunity to beat us."