Teamwork takes Lions back to state XC meet

LA FERIA — In sports, competition is key and the La Feria Lions cross country team has plenty of that going around.

It has done everything the coaches have asked, raced to its ability and done so without a single complaint.

In return, the team was rewarded by becoming the first Lions XC squad to make it to the state championships since the late 1990s.

How? This team did something that previous teams could not: Run as a team.

“I’ve had teams with some real fine runners that have gone to state in track and have done well at regionals, but we were just never really able to put it together (in cross country),” said La Feria coach Jose Martinez. “But these guys are actually running together as a team, and in cross country that is what it takes.”

For instance, the Lions’ top four runners, consisting of Reyes Rodriguez, Curtis Rodriguez, Mario Aleman and Juan Villeda, all finished within 27 seconds of each other at regionals. Reyes finished in 13th place (17:25.0), Curtis finished in 14th place (17:27.6), Aleman in 17th (17:31.6) and Villeda finished in 27th place (17:52.7).

In total, the Lions finished regionals in second place with 140 points and in prime position to compete at the UIL Class 4A cross country championships in Round Rock on Saturday.

“I think that we’re just trying to treat it like it’s another regular race,” said Aleman. “If we let the fact that it’s a state race go to our heads we might become too confident and might not perform as well as we could.

“We’ve been pushing ourselves more in practice while still trying to have fun. We know that a lot of people are rooting for us because it’s been awhile since the whole team has gone to state and we just want to make them proud.”

If the name Reyes Rodriguez sounds familiar it’s because the senior runner has been in the headlines as recently as this summer when he won the silver medal in the Class 4A boys 800-meter run at the UIL state track meet.

When asked what words best described Reyes Rodriguez, the first words to jump out of Coach Martinez’s mouth were simply: “Hard worker.”

“He’s a tough kid, a dedicated runner and just does what it takes to succeed,” added Martinez. “For the past several years he’s been running in our relay team and he’s a heck of a mile runner, but he just does what it takes to help his team.”

But while the team may be happy to have made it to state, they are far from content.

“It feels great because we have been working hard since the summer so we were very motivated,” said Reyes Rodriguez. “It makes all those long miles that we ran very early in the morning worth it. We need to make our last team race for this season be the best.

“My advice (to the team) is to enjoy the moment, but not take it for granted because the opportunity may not come again. You have to make a commitment to want to train hard and be the best. It’s you and your team versus everyone else on the course.”