Grapevine’s boys and girls cross country teams rode the momentum from runners-up finishes at the regional cross country meet into the 5A state meet in Round Rock recently. They had also collected both individual regional championships.
Mustangs runners Sklyer Simon and Alex Cleveland captured both the girls and boys regional individual champions, the first such occurrence in school history.
What the Mustangs came away with at the state meet was the girls individual title and a boys fourth-place finish. The girls also finished as state runner-up as a team, while the boys were sixth.
Simon took the girls championship, and Cleveland was the top Mustangs finisher.
Another shining star for the 6A version at the state meet was Heritage’s own claiming of the individual title by junior David Strome.
The new UIL structure this season allowed the top four teams from each regional to compete at the state meet. Grapevine head coach Rick Miller feels the move better accommodates strong teams within a tough region.
"What our girls accomplished validates the UIL's decision to send four teams from each regional meet to the state meet,” he said. “A year ago, they would not have had the opportunity. They all stepped up and ran their best race when it counted most. It was such an inspirational performance, and I am so proud of them."
Simon, a junior, became the first girl in Grapevine history to win the gold medal at the state meet.
“Skyler ran a great race,” Miller explained. “She didn't overrun the first mile, and she was very strong in the last mile. She was focused and ready to compete at the highest level."
Simon finished in a time of 18:15:19. The second place runner was far behind at 18:35:37.
“It was really exciting and we had been training really hard,” Simon said. “We started a 180-day countdown before the state meet to keep reminding ourselves what we were working for.
“It was great to achieve a goal we had set at the first of the season.”
Simon had shin splints last year as a sophomore and didn't qualify for the state meet. But as a freshman, she finished 16th at the state meet after qualifying at the then-5A regional meet.
On finishing second as a team, Simon said, “We bonded as a team during the season and the cameraderie made the difference. It was empowering and exciting.”
For Cleveland, a senior, the finish had a strange feel to it as he said he wasn’t used to finishing with such few runners around him.
“It was kind of a shocking experience because there were not a lot of people around me at the finish,” Cleveland said. “It was just a different experience but a better one. It was fantastic.”
Cleveland, a recent Lamar University commit, also noted the pride in his teammates as well as for the girls.
“The hard work all came together at the end,” he said. “It was good for both teams, especially for the girls. I’m proud of everybody and it was just a fantastic way to end my senior year.”
Heritage’s Strome is a nationally-ranked runner who had overcome some adversity over the course of the year to win the state title in his junior year.
Strome finished the 5K in 15:23:81. His time was over four seconds ahead of the second place finisher.
Strome competed as an individual. The team event was won by Carroll.
For team performances, Miller said this is the best finish for a Grapevine team in 13 years, as the girls team of 1993 were state champions and runners-up in 1994, while the boys team was state runner-up in 2000 and 2001.
"Everything considered, there is no doubt that the boys gave their best effort. Alex Cleveland and Riley Gonzales were very strong on our front end. Back in the state meet for the first time since 2001, they represented themselves and the program very well.
“This is the most gratifying season in my 30 years of coaching,” Miller said.
Grapevine took some sense of redemption as the boys finished ahead of regional champion Canyon, who came in 10th.
Next season, the girls will be highly regarded as the Lady Mustangs will lose just one senior.