The Allen girls, Lovejoy boys, Lovejoy girls and Allen senior Jonathan Chung all earned bids to the UIL state cross country meet this weekend at their respective regionals earlier this season, setting up for a final UIL-sanctioned chance at glory for the programs.
The state meet will take place at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock Saturday, with the Class 5A girls getting underway at 1:10 p.m., the 5A boys at 1:50 p.m., the Class 6A girls at 2:30 p.m. and the 6A boys rounding out the day at 3:10 p.m.
Though Lovejoy is accustomed to still being in action at this time of year – the Leopard boys team took third a season ago and expects to finish on the podium once again in 2019 – having a team on either side qualify as a group is a new experience for Allen.
The Allen girls’ fourth-place result at their regional event behind a runner-up performance from sophomore Brenna Zerby was the program’s highest-ever team finish, eclipsing fifth-place results from the Allen boys in 2015 and 2016. The top four teams at each regional event advance to state, making the 2019 Lady Eagles Allen’s first such group.
While the Lady Eagles figured to enter this weekend’s meet with some momentum, they’ll have to run without Zerby, who Allen head coach Kirk Trent said will miss the state meet with a prior engagement.
With Zerby absent, the team’s chances of a top finish likely evaporate, though Trent said he wants his group to focus on enjoying the experience of being the first team to travel to Round Rock together, put forward its best effort, push for personal records and let the team result fall where it may.
The lead spot will likely fall to senior Emilie Morgan, who Trent said has had a great season after being plagued by injury a year ago and has competed with Zerby throughout 2019. At the McNeil Invitational earlier this fall, which is run on the state course, Morgan finished in 18th with a time of 18:53.
There’s still one legitimate shot at a program state-best as an individual for Allen, as Chung qualified for the state meet for the second season in a row with a top-10 performance at the Region II-6A meet.
Allen’s previous best finishes at the state level came from sophomore Krista Steinbeiser in 2008 (two-mile, 17th), senior Tim Jones and junior Danielle Drogosch in 2015 (79th and 49th, respectively), senior Jake Johnson in 2016 (12th place), and Chung and Zerby a season ago (35th and 29th, respectively).
Chung, Trent said, has a shot at breaking 15 minutes, cracking the top 10 and etching his name into the Allen history books as the first to do so at the state level. At the McNeil event, Chung finished third with a time of 15:18.
As for Lovejoy, the way forward is clear. Freshman Amy Morefield will lead the way for the Lady Leopards after a runner-up finish at regionals that mirrored the team’s overall finish.
On the boys side, the Leopards’ fate will once again come down to their ability to stake runners near the top of the standings in the face of solid programs like El Paso Eastwood, which collected just 62 points a season ago to beat out Lovejoy (91) and Austin Johnson (87).
Senior Will Muirhead, who turned in a 14:59.30 at regionals to win the event, will likely pace the group, though Lovejoy is chock-full of runners with top-10 potential.
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