Luke Hamilton finally got his chance to compete in the cross country postseason.
And the Brock junior is making the most of the opportunity.
Hamilton not only competed in the District 7-3A Meet, he advanced to the Region I Meet. Now, he will be competing in the University Interscholastic League State Cross Country Meet Saturday (Nov. 4) at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock.
As a freshman, Hamilton's season ended short of district because of severe tendinitis. Last year a stress reaction in his right femur forced an end to his season.
"At the end of last year I decided to focus on one sport to remain healthy throughout the year," Hamilton said.
While he is a newcomer to state, he will be joined by several familiar faces from the area. Junior Kylie Laverty of Brock will be making a third straight appearance at the 3A Meet. Sophomore twins Graydon and Gracie Morris of Aledo will be back for a second consecutive year in 5A. Also, junior Brice Hardin of Peaster is also back for a second straight year in 3A.
The Poolville boys team will be competing in the Class 2A Meet, qualifying by finishing fourth in the team standings at the 2A Meet in Grand Prairie.
This season, Hamilton has come back strong and is running his best as state approaches. He finished fifth at district and qualified for regionals, where he posted a career-best time of 17:22.1 over 3 miles for 19th place, good enough to place him in the top 10 of those not on one of the four qualifying teams.
Hamilton's best finish before district was 11th, which he had done twice at Cleburne and the local Castle Run at Pythian Home.
"I went into the regional race so thankful to have been given the opportunity to finally race at Mae Simmons Park (in Lubbock) and compete for a spot to qualify for state," Hamilton said. "Thankfully, with the encouragement and guidance from coach (Keith) Shoush and my father throughout this cross country season, I will have a chance to race at the state meet."
Meanwhile, Laverty is making her second straight individual appearance at state and third overall. She qualified as a freshman as part of the entire Lady Eagles squad. She enters state coming off her best finish at regionals (12th) in three trips, posting a time of 14:11.30 over 2 miles.
"They both ran very strong races (at regionals). They got out and ran hard early in their respective races," Shoush said. "After the first big hill, Kylee was in the top 15 and Luke was in the top 20. I look forward to seeing them improve in practice and running in Round Rock."
The Morris twins each posted top-five finishes as freshmen in 2016. Graydon was third and Gracie fifth.
Graydon has the fastest time in the state in 5A in both 3-mile (14:40.1 at regionals) and 5,000-meter (15:05.2 on Sept. 30) distances. Gracie is third in 5,000 (17:37 on Sept. 30) and first in 3 miles (regional time of 17:15.71).
Both ran personal-bests at the regional meet in Lubbock.
"Graydon did a fantastic job of dictating the race. Even though he was pushed by a runner from EP Hanks, he was able to run his race, and stick to his game plan.," Aledo coach Mike Pinkerton said of the regional race. "There were times during the race when Graydon was the pace setter, and times when he let the Hanks runner set the pace. In the end, his strength and kick were too much for the Hanks runner.
"Graydon has a great shot at the state title. He is a seasoned runner and knows how to run each race. He doesn’t allow other runners to dictate how he races, and I believe he will be very successful at Round Rock."
Pinkerton echoed those thoughts for Gracie.
"Gracie also did a great job of dictating her race. She was able to get to the front early, and then make several other runners run her pace," he said. "When the time came, she kicked it into high gear, and no one could keep up. She won her race running away.
"I also believe that Gracie has a tremendous shot at the state title. With the strength that she possesses, it makes it very difficult for other runners to match her pace. Her kick is unbelievable, and I don’t know if anyone can match her pace, and her kick."
Hardin earned his return trip to state by finishing fourth at regionals with a time of 16:41.43 over 3 miles, a personal record for that distance. He was coming off a district championship and improved his time by over 50 seconds.
"I feel like I improved a lot over the summer by running more," Hardin said. "Our team also improved by finishing second in district and sixth in regionals. That was definitely the best part of the season. Hopefully next year we can take a team to state."
Which is what the Poolville Monarchs did for the sixth time since 2005. The Monarchs celebrated their 16th consecutive appearance at regionals by qualifying for state for the first time since 2013. It came on the heels of winning their first district championship in four years.
The Monarchs were led by two runners in the top 10 individually. Freshman Henry Fierro was seventh with a time of 18:24.42 over 3 miles, and senior Garrett Mott placed eighth in 18:29.28.
Rounding out the Poolville runners who will be on the team at state are freshman Trendan Parish (29th at regionals), sophomore Zaine Mansell (41st), and seniors Brady Blevins (42nd), Cameron Fitzcharles (64th) and Chris Tunnell (72nd).
"I had a good feeling we would make it to state this year. We have a very hard working group of kids," Poolville coach Steven Stegall said. "There is great senior leadership on this team, and the freshmen are two of the best I have coached.
"The kids compete in practice every day against each other and their times. When you have a group of athletes that will work hard in practice, it almost always carries over into the races."