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Running the RGV Young, Valley-heavy cross-country team begins season

Sophomore Alexandria Muñoz (left) and freshman Alexis Gonzalez run Sept. 4 in the RGV Duals on the Monte Cristo Golf Course. LESLEY ROBLES/THE RIDER

The Vaquero cross-country’s rosters of 21 student-athletes stands apart from many other programs at UTRGV. The men’s team consists of only 11 runners, while the women’s team has 10. Having fewer members than sports teams like basketball, soccer or baseball is not unusual, but looking through the hometowns of all the players might come as a surprise.

Only three runners, all on the men’s team, hail from outside the Rio Grande Valley. The remaining 18 members of the teams ran for Valley high schools. Looking closer, the most common city to produce runners is Edinburg, with four men and one woman who formerly ran in the E.C.I.S.D.

Head Coach Xavier Richardson explained the advantages of recruiting members from the Valley.

“I wouldn’t just say it’s easier to recruit from the Valley,” said Richardson, who took over cross-country in Spring 2012. “On the other side of that coin, sometimes you have individuals that don’t want to be close to home or want to go elsewhere. Sometimes, we have just as good of a shot as any other school in the state or out of the state with some of the athletes and some we do have the advantage.”

The coach did acknowledge a helpful hand coming from a few local high school coaches who alert their athletes of the pipeline to UTRGV that is available if they choose to remain in the area for collegiate competition.

“I think we do have a good relationship with some of the coaches in the area, and they certainly assist us when it comes to letting the next generations know that we are an opportunity for them,” said Richardson, who began as an assistant with UT Pan American in 2009. “On the same, we have others that kind of push them out the door and say, ‘You can do this or go other places.’”

The team is doing its part to spread awareness about the program at UTRGV to those who might be unsure about the benefits of staying in the area.

“We’re doing more of what we can to get out and about and be present,” said Richardson, who also leads the track and field team. “We’re working on getting more athletes onto campus and hosting meets and things that they can see with what we have here, or facilities and so on, so that’s really on their mind when they are deciding where to go.”

Another unique aspect of the two cross-country rosters is the abundance of underclassmen. There are 10 freshmen in total, including one redshirt; nine sophomores and only one upperclassman per team. Senior Jose Juan Wells, from Cottonwood, Arizona, is the elder statesman on the men’s team. Women’s runner Savanna Antley, a former Sharyland distance runner, has been with the program the longest.

The 2015-16 season is already in full swing with two meets already under the team’s belt. The first event was held Sept. 4 at Monte Cristo Golf Course in Edinburg, where the Vaqueros ran against Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi.

Wells was the top time on the team and fourth overall with a 16:03 finish in the 5K race. Ricardo Moreno was the only other Vaquero to finish in the top 10 with a time of 16:28.

Jennifer Zapata led the women’s team with a time of 19:06, Thalia Polanco finished a second later at 19:09 and Teresa Sova came in at 19:12. These finishes were good enough for third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

The next meet took place in Houston at the Rice Invitational with competition from around the state present.

The top men’s finish was Ricardo Moreno, in 60th place, with a time of 20:21.42 in the 5.5K race. Vaquero men finished 10th, ahead of Texas A&M International University-Laredo, Texas Southern University and Prairie View A&M University.

Sova’s time of 17:13.40 and Zapata’s time of 17:18.60 in the 4K race were good for 13th and 17th places. The women’s team earned a sixth-place finish overall, just a few points behind regionally ranked Lamar University.

The Islander Splash in Corpus Christi is the next time Coach Richardson will lead the team into competition. Friday’s meet serves as the third of the season. Including the Corpus meet, the team has four remaining events until the conference race Oct. 31 in Orem, Utah.

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