A year ago, Andruw Villa was just happy to be running at the Class 6A state cross country meet as an Abilene High freshman. Now, a little wiser and much faster, he’s aiming pretty high for Saturday’s race at Old Settlers Park in Round Round.
“Hopefully get top five, and I hope to win, too,” Villa said.
Villa proved he can run with the best in the state after a second-place finish at the Region I-6A meet on Oct. 25 at Mae Simmons Park in Lubbock.
Plano West senior Hudson Heikkinen won the 5-kilometer race in 15 minutes, 25.3 seconds. Villa followed in 15:26.1 – 19 seconds ahead of the third-place runner.
Not bad for a guy who finished 17th at region last year in 16:32.10.
“Yeah, it gave me a lot of confidence for this year going into state,” Villa said.
It’s been a remarkable year for Villa. He won the District 2-6A meet by 30 seconds over defending league champion Chavez Christian of Odessa Permian.
Now, he gets a shot at redemption after finishing 119th out of 120 runners at state last year. Villa, who ran a 19:32.04 at state last year in his worst outing of the season, said he didn’t eat properly before the race and struggled with an aching stomach.
It was a tough lesson to learn on the state’s biggest stage – along with other things.
“Pacing is important and hydration,” Villa said. “I think that was also one of the factors of my stomach.”
He said it’s important for him to stick to his usual pre-race routine and stretch more as well.
“I was a little tight that race, too.”
Still, it was a pretty exciting day for Villa, who got the experience to build on for this year and, perhaps, two more trips after this year.
“Yeah, I was pretty happy to be there,” Villa said. “I knew even if I got a really good pr I would lose, but I was excited to be at state as a freshman.”
A personal-best would put Villa in contention this time. Dallas Wylie senior Luke Lambert won the state title last year with a 15:03.45, followed by Duncanville senior Martin David Chavez (15:17.28) and El Paso Eastlake junior David Israel (15:25.54).
AHS’ sister act
Villa won’t be the only AHS athlete running at the state cross country meet.
The Murray sisters – Mason and Marin – will make their first appearance.
And why not? They’ve been running 1-2 at most meets this season, including the District 2-6A meet.
While Mason has been phenomenal this season as a freshman, she’s grateful that Marin, a sophomore, is making the trip with her.
“I’m super excited, because we’re doing it together,” Mason said. “So, I have a hand to hold through it.”
Well, at least until they get to the starting line. Sisters will be sisters.
Mason doesn’t plan to run alongside Marin.
“Oh, probably not,” Mason said. “I still want to beat her.”
Mason won district in 19:06.48, followed by Marin (19:33.62), but they both knew it would be tough to qualify for state.
After all, they run in a region that boasts some of the state’s best runners.
They still managed to hang with the elites. Mason finished 14th (19:16.6), while Marin nabbed the final at-large berth (21st, 19:32.1).
Lewisville Flower Mound senior Natalie Cook (16:39.9) won the race, while Eastlake senior Lauren Walls (18:05.1) and Prosper junior Shewaye Johnson (18:09.9) were second and third, respectively.
Flower Mound and Carroll finished 1-2 in the team standings at region this year, after finishing 1-2 at state last year. El Paso Franklin, another Region I team, was fourth at state last year.
So, Mason was caught off guard when she managed to stick close to the front and earn that state berth.
“I wasn’t like shocked, but I was kind of surprised, because the last time I ran against these team I ended up 40th,” Mason said. “So, coming in 14th, I didn’t think I would get that low. That was pretty fun.”
What made the moment even sweeter was the fact she didn’t think a little freshman could do that well.
“I was just super relieved and excited, because I had doubted myself that whole past week,” Mason said. “Just for it to happen, it was just a huge relief and I was super excited because, regionals, it’s do or die. You either do it, or your season is over. I still have more of the season left.”
It was a pretty neat moment for Marin as well. She finished 56th at region last year (20:52.80) to lead the AHS girls. This time around, she had a faster teammate to follow.
“I was kind of surprised I made it, to be honest,” Marin said. “Regionals was the closest I ran with her timewise all season. So, that was also surprising.”
Since it’s the first state appearance for both sisters, they plan on enjoying the moment and use it to build on.
“I’m obviously not going to go out and do something really amazing or anything,” Mason said. “I’m trying to take it as a learning experience, because I’ll have the next three years to build on it.”
Added Marin: “My goal (at region) was to run as hard as I could because it could be the last race of the season. I didn’t want to end my season knowing I could have given more. That’s the plan Saturday, too.”
AHS girls coach RoseMary Martin was proud of her two girls.
“They worked really hard all season long, and I’m excited for this experience that they’ll be able to do together and then build from that for the future,” Martin said.
Denton Guyer senior Brynn Brown won state last year (16:25.89). It took a sub-18:00 run to finish in the top five. Cook, who won the Region I title this year, was seventh at state (18:05.94) last year.
“Our goal is to stay in the top half,” Martin said. “With the 160, 170 runners that will be there, if we can finish in the top 40 or 50, that would be about where their times would be.”
And despite their sibling rivalry, Marin is thrilled to be making the trip with her little sister.
“It’s going to be exciting going together because it’s a first-time experience for all of us,” Marin said.
Joey D. Richards covers Abilene high schools and colleges, Big Country schools and other local sports. Follow him at Twitter at ARN_Joey. If you appreciate locally driven news, you can support local journalists with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.
2021 UIL State Cross Country Meet
At Old Settlers Park, Round Rock
Class 1A girls, 8:30 a.m.
Class 1A boys 9 a.m.
Class 3A girls, 10 a.m.
Class 3A boys 10:30 a.m.
Class 5A girls, 11:30 a.m.
Class 5A boys, 12:10 p.m.
Class 2A girls, 8:30 a.m.
Class 2A boys, 9 a.m.
Class 4A girls, 10 a.m.
Class 4A boys 10:30 a.m.
Class 6A girls, 11:30 a.m.
Class 6A boys, 12:10 p.m.
This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Abilene High's Villa, Murray sisters compete at state XC meet Saturday