When the Keller girls cross country team finished third in the state meet with a full complement of sophomores, expectations were high.
Meeting expectations can be a lofty goal, but the juniors were focused all off-season and through the fall’s campaign.
The result is a Class 6A state championship.
Keller blew away the competition in the process. The Lady Indians outdistanced second-place Southlake Carroll, 44-84, at the event held in Round Rock on Saturday.
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Abbey Santoro was the third individual finisher for Keller, with Julia Black finishing fifth.
Sandwiched between the Keller runners was Carroll’s Gillian Mortimer, while Keller’s Isabel Van Camp was 11th and Vera Thompson was 14th. Keller’s Sydney White was 43rd, Makenna Pallozi was 63rd and Emily Watson was 79th.
Santoro’s time was 17:23.99, and Mortimer was almost nine seconds behind.
As a team, Keller averaged an 18:07 for the first five runners. Carroll averaged 18:27.
Cross country scoring relies on team performance, and no one else in the field could match the depth of Keller. The top five runners’ times are used to compute the team score, but it takes a team to compete effectively.
The top two individual finishers were Houston Lamar’s Julia Heymach and Abilene’s Ashton Endsley, both seniors.
“It’s just kind of starting to sink in,” Keller head coach Brian Zaring said on Sunday.
The high expectation was more of a motivator than added pressure for the young Lady Indians this season.
Zaring said after stepping off the podium last year at the state meet with the bronze medals, the team was already stating they were going to be on the top step this year.
“They said, ‘We’re going to win this thing next year,’” he said. “Their mantra has been to remember the goal from (last) November.
“They were laser-focused from the first day of practice in August. It’s been a really, really fun journey for the last three and a half to four months,” Zaring said.
Depth was the difference, though, Zaring said.
“Our numbers four, five, six and seven ran almost the perfect race,” he said. “The back half was the difference.”
Good teams have runners like Santoro and Black, but depth with runners such as Van Camp, Thompson, White, Pallozzi and Watson make the team “fantastic,” Zaring said.
White, another junior, said the hard work from all season has paid off and the third-place finish was motivation.
“We worked hard as a team and everyone has to realize their place matters,” White said.
“It wasn’t tough to stay motivated,” White said after last season. “We realized how good we are and how awesome it would be to get a state championship the next year.”
Pallozzi, a freshman, began cross country just six months ago after moving to Keller from Virginia.
She played soccer and decided cross country would help her stay in shape. Pallozzi had no idea what she was walking into as a Keller runner.
“I can’t explain it,” she said of being a state champion. “The older girls are someone to look up to. They inspire me and support me, and we believe in each other.”
Success breeds its own challenges, but Zaring said the team hasn’t spoken of duplicating its feat next season just yet.
Instead, Keller’s squad is looking toward this weekend’s Nike South regional meet and earning a trip to the national meet.
High expectations, indeed.
Keller bows out of volleyball playoffs
The Keller volleyball team notched a 3-1 win over El Paso El Dorado in the area quarterfinals before losing out in the area semifinals to Hebron, 3-0.
The Lady Indians wrap the season at 25-10 and were district co-champions. They earned the top seed from the district after knocking off Weatherford for the second time in a seeding game.