HARLINGEN — For the second consecutive season, the Harlingen High boys cross country team captured the District 32-6A title.
After last season’s successful campaign, head coach Efrain Ambriz and his team of runners doubled down at this year’s district meet and punched their ticket to the UIL Region IV-6A cross country meet to be held on Monday at TexasA&M University-Corpus Christi.
The Cardinals finished the meet with a total of 41 points, which was 27 points ahead of second-place Weslaco East (68 points) and 51 points ahead of third place Brownsville Hanna (92 points), which clinched the final regional meet berth. Weslaco High just missed the cut with 100 points, followed by San Benito (110 points) and Harlingen South (145 points).
“Traditionally we haven’t been a cross country powerhouse, and I wouldn’t say that we are right now, but we’re trying to get there and we’re trying to build a program that will be known throughout the Valley, and maybe one day throughout the state,” said Ambriz. “(Going into regionals) they’re confident and we’ve been running our best times toward the end of the season, which is exactly when we want to peak.”
While the team did capture the league crown last season, the team failed to reach the state meet. This year, with a senior-heavy squad, the team is in a “now-or-never” moment.
“It’s been our goal since last year to win district, qualify for regionals and qualify for state,” said Ambriz. “We fell short last year and finished eighth as a team, so we’re looking to be in the mix this year. If we run our best race, I think we’re going to be able to get there.
“We’re a senior-heavy team. Of the seven guys, five are seniors, so it’s now or never for us.”
In addition to the district title, the Cardinals also have a district champion in Art Benavides. The senior finished the race in first place with a time of 15:54.4.
“It’s a really rewarding experience to be district champion,” said Benavides. “I started at the bottom my sophomore year behind our second and third man, and it’s been a challenge to work my way to the top. But to know that I finally won a race in a big meet is really rewarding.”
Teammate Edward Ramos finished third with a time of 16:10.6, followed by Fernando Escobar, who was fourth with a time of 16:13.9.
“Art is a tough runner and a smart intellectual kid who is always analyzing what’s going on,” said Ambriz. “Up to this point he hadn’t won a race for us in any given meet, but I guess he was saving it for the meet that really counted. Hopefully at regionals he will able to perform just as well if not better than he did at district.”