Dynasty. That's the perfect word for The Woodlands' cross country program. The Highlanders earned their fourth straight UIL state boys' team title at Saturday's meet, and their school's 21st.
Coach Juris Green has been a part of six title-clinching teams during the past 10 seasons, but the latest came with a Saturday time of 1:17:21.15 at Round Rock's Old Settlers Park. His team also finished with 99 points.
"It never gets old," said Green. "It really never, ever gets old. From high-fiving and hugging to crying and laughing, I've had all of those emotions from the finish of that race to here. And it happens every year. There's none two the same, and this one has a story of its own that is really rich and will stay with me for a long time."
The main contributor on the course was junior Spencer Cardinal. He led the Highlanders with a third place individual finish, and a time of 14:50.25.
"We've been underranked all season," said Cardinal. "We just had to prove it. Most teams were ranked ahead of us, and that just gave us more to fight for. And we just came out here, see what we did, and proved ourself."
But, the Highlanders wouldn't have pulled it out without other athletes stepping up. Ethan Hammer, who finished ninth overall, was one to answer the call.
"We graduated six of seven last year, so we really started over," said Green. "There was a lot of learning that needed to go on, and just explaining how it works. You know JV to varsity is a different world, and each week, they learned and learned, made mistakes along the way, but that's how you grow."
"We got to this point, and I was able to tell them last night I don't care what the results are. We've already had a phenomenal season, and they've grown so much individually."
Another notable performance from the VYPE Houston area was La Porte junior Ryan Schoppe. He finished second in the boys' division, recording a time of 14:43.88.
"It feels great," Schoppe said of his finish. "This is my first top 10 finish in a state cross country meet. I got 53rd my freshman year, and 25th last year, so this tops it off. And I'm ready to come back next year, and try to win that gold."
On the girls' side, Cinco Ranch's Heidi Nielson led the VYPE Houston area, with a fourth place finish and a time of 16:55.56. Her teammate, Sophie Atkinson, added Cougar depth with a ninth-place time of 17:31.13.
"Everybody here is such an amazing runner," said Nielson. "I really wanted to do well...so finishing fourth is still an honor."
And don't forget the home field advantage of VYPE Austin runners. Austin Vandegrift junior Jordan Mathis took advantage, finishing eighth overall with a time of 17:26.14. Her performance helped the Vipers finish sixth overall.
"Overall, pretty happy with how it went," said Mathis.
The following VYPE-area teams and runners also finished in the top 10: Smithson Valley boys (5th), Kingwood boys (7th), Bridgeland girls (7th), Kingwood's Carter Storm (8th boys' individual), The Woodlands College Park boys (8th), Houston Stratford girls (8th), Katy Tompkins boys (9th), The Woodlands College Park girls (9th), Houston Strake Jesuit boys (10th), and Katy girls (10th).