MAY — Senior Eli Williams, who finished 10th at the UIL Class A Cross Country State Meet a year ago, is returning to Round Rock Saturday as the Region II-A champion — and he’s bringing company.
The surprising May Tigers placed fourth as a team at regionals to earn a trip to Old Settlers Park, while Lady Tiger freshman Marilyn Infante also locked up a berth with a seventh-place effort among runners on non-state qualifying teams.
Williams was clocked at 17.55.7 in Abilene on Oct. 26, and his nearest competitor was George Anaya of Wink, who finished in a time of 18:11.6. Williams’ regional time was almost seven full seconds better than his state effort of 18:02.62 in 2014.
“My best time is about 22 seconds better than last year, so I feel like I have the potential to do better,” said Williams, who along with the Tigers will run at 2 p.m. Saturday. “At regionals, I really didn’t know my competition, I just took off in front, hoped that was where I was supposed to be and just tried to stay there. At state, I’m going to try the same thing.”
May cross country coach Grant Gooch added, “Eli has worked. He decided what he wanted and he’s gone out and done it — coming up at 6 a.m. to run, two-a-day workouts, running mixed in with weights and basketball.
“We talked at the end of track last year. He ended up with the fourth-fastest mile in the state but didn’t go to state because the three fastest times were in our region. After that, we talked about having one year left and if he wanted it, he had to go get it.”
While a state championship is Williams’ ultimate goal, he would be pleased with a top three performance.
“I’m going for the gold, but second or third place would be awesome if there’s someone there who can beat me,” Williams said.
Infante — who competes at 1:30 p.m. Saturday — has aspirations of one day competing in the Olympics, and qualifying for state as a freshman is just one of several steps on her hopeful journey.
“This was a goal and I plan on going to state all four years in high school, but I didn’t know for sure if I was going to go at regionals, so I was nervous until I found out,” said Infante, who ran a 13:57.9 and finished 13th overall in Abilene.
Gooch also believed Infante possessed the potential to reach the state meet as a freshman.
“I’m pleased, but not surprised at all,” Gooch said. “She is a worker and ran very well as an eighth-grader. I sat her down at the beginning of the season and told her that her goal was making it to state, period. She came in wide-eyed as a freshman, but she worked all summer.”
As for her state goals, Infante said, “I want to make history and make people proud and win state. I don’t want all the work to go for nothing. I’m doing this because I want to get in a good college and save my parents some money, so I’ve been working really hard.”
The Tigers, meanwhile, produced 175 points at regionals to qualify as a team as they trailed only Sands (60 points), Rankin (104) and Grady (128).
Advancing along with Williams were Daniel Salinas (40th, 20:20.7), Wyatt Mote (44th, 20:25.8), Dalton Self (55th, 20:38), Rocky Gage (75th, 21:13), Andy O’Neill (102nd, 22:23.9) and Kelby Ford (130th, 24:55.7).
“I don’t think anybody expected it, we just did cross country to work hard and get better at the other sports we do,” Gage said. “When we found out we made state we were all surprised.”
Other Tigers echoed those sentiments.
“It took us all by surprise,” Mote said. “We knew Eli was going, but we never expected them to say May for fourth place.”
Now that the Tigers are state-bound, the goal for the Tigers is, “to just beat our times and do our best,” Mote said.
Ford, a freshman, credited Gooch for the team’s development and hopes the Tigers put forth another stellar effort Saturday.
“I give a lot of credit to our coach, he really helped us out,” Ford said. “I’m hoping we can win Saturday, or at least we all run a good race.”
In regard to having the entire Tiger team compete at Old Settlers Park, Gooch said, “It’s a big deal. Three of our top five are football players. We’ve had to coordinate schedules with football practice, but they decided along with football they wanted to go out and do this.”
As for state goals, Gooch has set a relatively simple one.
“Our goal is find the next runner and beat them,” Gooch said. “We didn’t talk about expectations going into regionals, we talked about competing, looking ahead at the runner in front of them and beating them. Then we’d see what happens. This week is the same. We’re not talking expectations, we’re talking about competing.”