Coppell ended a 12-year drought in boys cross country last year when the Cowboys qualified their entire team for the state meet for the first time since 2007.
Returning four runners from that team, which placed seventh in Class 6A, Coppell is ready to improve on that finish. The Cowboys will travel to Round Rock on Tuesday for the state meet with the goal of earning a spot on the medal stand at Old Settlers Park. The boys race starts at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Coppell’s journey to the state meet began by capturing the District 6-6A championship. The following week, Coppell ran to third place at regionals in Lubbock, where the Cowboys, ranked No. 9 in 6A by the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas, bested No. 7 El Paso Americas by eight points and No. 8 Flower Mound by 17 points to claim the final team berth into the state meet.
Although Coppell will have to run against the likes of top-ranked The Woodlands, No. 2 El Paso Eastwood (defending 5A state champion), No. 3 Southlake Carroll (defending 6A state champion), Cowboys head coach Nick Benton has seen his fair share of upsets since he took over the helm in 2015.
“We’re going to go for it and see what happens,” Benton said. “In 2018, we had a group of girls that all went for it at the same time and won it. Personally, it kind of depends on the year. Our goal is to go for it as hard as we can. Hopefully everyone runs well on the same day.”
Senior Evan Caswell has been one of the state’s most dominant runners this season – winning five meets, all by at least nine seconds. He ran to fourth place in 6A a year ago as a junior and this season turned in the third-fastest time (15 minutes, 45 seconds) from all four regional meets, trailing only Duncanville’s Martin David-Chavez (14:47) and Klein’s Christopher Daniels (14:57).
Of course, every course has a different terrain, which leads to various times. Caswell ran to a time of 14:58 at the district meet at North Lakes Park in Denton.
“He’s close,” Benton said. “Head to head, he hasn’t anyone that’s beat him. There are a few kids in the state that have some pretty good times. It’s just hard to tell with times on different courses. Our attitude going into it is to control what he can control, and he’s just got to continue to race hard.”
Senior Rith Bhattacharyya, a John’s Hopkins commit, and sophomore Andrew Mullen have provided stability at the Nos. 2 and 3 spots in Coppell’s lineup.
Bhattacharyya has finished in the top 10 at five different meets, including a first-place finish at Flower Mound on Oct. 3, and his best time on the season is 15:31 (district meet). Mullen, meanwhile, has had a seamless transition to the varsity level. He has finished outside the top 10 just once this season, clocking a season-best time of 15:34 at districts.
“Andrew and Rith have switched off between two and three every week,” Benton said. “Last year, Collin (Proctor) was our number two. We’re hoping that Collin kind of comes on a little bit. There’s a lot of possibilities. Rith has done great things for us.
“Andrew is fearless. He runs hard. He’s not afraid to get out there and stay out there. His strength is getting in the race and staying the course. He’s done a great job. He’s been a nice surprise.”
Proctor as well as sophomores Vedant Bhattacharrya, Blain Warner and Kavin Chengavarayan have scored crucial points from the bottom four spots of the lineup, with all four placing in the top 26 at the district meet.
Preparing for the state meet hasn’t come without its challenges. From Nov. 11-18, Coppell’s cross country team was forced to practice on its own due to the school being forced to switch from in-person learning to virtual out of concern for the recent spike of positive COVID-19 cases. The Cowboys finally got to train as a team Thursday.
“We’ve had to completely separate from the team, but our practices have been really good,” Benton said. “Everyone has been really positive. It’s been upbeat. They’re really excited. And they’re all healthy, which is good. We’re just trying to get in all of our last few workouts in at a high level. We’re concentrating on doing things like state champions, such as stretching well, cooling down well. The plan is to show up at the state meet and go for it.”