The Brownwood Invitational cross country meet continues to grow, with 557 athletes and 15 schools set to compete in the third annual event Saturday morning at the Brownwood Middle School campus.

Along with host Brownwood, teams from Abilene Christian, Abilene Cooper, Abilene Wylie, Breckenridge, Cisco, Clyde, Comanche, Georgetown Gateway, Hamilton, Llano, May, Priddy, San Saba and Zephyr are expected to attend.

“It should be a good meet,” said Brownwood High cross country head coach Don Hood. “Zephyr has a good girls team, Priddy usually has some good girls and guys, Breckenridge I know has a really good guy, Wylie has good girls and a few good guys and Abilene Christian has some really good runners, not so much as a team, but a couple of good individuals. It should be competitive individually, but teamwise I don’t think there’s anyone who should beat us.”

Hood attributed the close proximity for many of the schools, as well as the way the meet is run, to its increasing popularity.

“We run it off on time and it’s an accurate and flat course,” Hood said. “The area towns like Zephyr, May and Priddy, they can run and be home by noon, plus we give them their awards as they cross the finish line, and I think they like that. But the bottom line is when we say we’re going to run at such and such time, that’s when we go.”

Saturday’s event will start with junior high action at 8 a.m. as the seventh grade girls will run, followed by the eighth grade girls, then the seventh and eighth grade boys will run together at 8:40 a.m. Varsity action is slated to begin at 8:55 a.m. with the girls, followed by the boys. The junior varsity girls will be up next, followed by the JV boys. Elementary races are slated to take place at 11 a.m.

Heading into the meet, the Lady Lions varsity squad has finished first in every event in which it has competed — at San Angelo, Burleson and Abilene. An injury has forced an alteration to the roster this weekend, but Hood expects the Lady Lions to continue their string of first-place team performances. Keeta Vaccaro will run in her first meet of the season in place of Julianne Hood, who recently suffered a foot injury.

“The girls are on a roll right now and it’s been really fun,” Hood said. “The upperclassmen, Katy (Jacobs) and Victoria (Hood), have run well every week and the three freshmen, Julianne, Tori Burkett and Ashley Strong, have stepped up tremendously. They all ran a lot this summer and a did a lot of work, plus they have a great competitive spirit. Those five, along with Keeta, Alex Bernal and Jeane Standridge, give us a real good group.

“What’s different this year is they are all bunched together within about 30 or 40 seconds of each other. That makes for a good cross country team if they’re running fast. In the past, we had Caitlyn Haynes and then everybody else, but this year everybody is toward the front. At Abilene the top six all medaled and that doesn’t happen very often. If we want to compete for state though, we’re going to need a couple to start running 12:30 or 12:40 and I think that’s going to happen pretty soon.”

The Lions are coming off their initial first-place team outing in Abilene on Sept. 8, and Hood feels the Brownwood boys — led by Dylan Person, who currently owns the seventh-best Class 3A boys time in the state — are just now hitting their stride. Jacob Salazar, Tristan Stieber, Adam Tipton, Hugo Yebra and Quantez Johnson joined Person in the Lions’ rotation at Abilene.

“Dylan’s been the big dog and really stepped up and filled Cameron (McLaughlin’s) shoes very well,” Hood said. “We’ve got three more who are running really well, and three or four more who are getting there. If they can move up to the top three, we’ve got a real chance at getting out of regionals.

“The guys didn’t run as much this summer, they played a lot of soccer, which is what they do. But that kept them in good shape, not racing shape, so they round into shape a little slower than the girls. Once they get there though, they’re really good. Once the weather got cooler and they got past the soreness and the dead legs, they’ve competed very well.”