It’s been a slow build to greatness but the Lady Apaches have reached that goal of getting to the state cross-country meet. Every season, the team has improved. From wanting to be competitive in the district meet, to becoming district champs and eventually qualifying from regionals to the state meet, the Lady Apaches have raised expectations year-after-year under the leadership of Head Coach Cully Doyle and senior runners Haley Garza and Romy Cantu. Both runners have made it to the regional meet, as Cantu became a four-time regional qualifier. But it took a team of seven to get to the state, as all three have noted.
“We started this a long time ago,” Garza said. “Just getting out of district our sophomore year, and then last year we were shy but this year we really worked hard. For me, I’ve been running 45-plus miles a week during the summer. I was really wanting to get better than everybody else and now we’re one of the top runners in state.”
“That group of girls deserve it,” Doyle said of the state qualifiers. “Even during the hurricane those girls are running.”
Despite weather conditions that canceled school, the Lady Apaches were communicating with their head coach, letting him know that they are still abiding by the weekly goals and training that have been set.
“How do you fault it? I can’t fault it,” Doyle said. “I get these text messages and these phone calls from these kids saying, ‘ok coach I got my run in.’ That’s why I go to work every day. I love these girls to death. This is probably the best, most fun year [I’ve had].”
A team may lean on a top runner or two to push them to the top, but the Lady Apaches have been able to count on multiple runners throughout the season, rather than just one. Due to the depth of the roster, runners are constantly pushing themselves, creating a competition for top-seven slots.
“When you see one person running their hearts out, everybody wants to tag along with that person,” Cantu noted. “Usually we start bumping up and we’re in a good place.”
The proof is in the results where meet after meet, times are improved.
Doyle talked about wanting his first runner and seventh runner to be within 60 seconds of each other. In their Region IV-4A meet, the Lady Apaches were within 57 seconds of each other, with yet more room for improvement.
“The under classmen on this team [stepped up] and are running out of their comfort zone,” Cantu said, as she thanked them for their dedication. “Haley and I wouldn’t be going to state our senior year [without them].”
Doyle talked about how special the team is, starting with Veronica Moreno who led the pack in the regional race.
“I knew she was pretty focused, primed and ready,” he said.
He then described Stephanie Reyna as “a gem.”
“She’s like that gold nugget that’s in the ground, that’s fixin’ to be uncovered,” Doyle said. “She’s a special runner, she doesn’t even know how good she is. She’s starting to figure it out, but she was a big piece to our puzzle.”
Shelby Davis is another runner Doyle gushed over, as she has stepped up to fighting her way to a top-seven spot.
“[Davis has] earned it in district, she earned it going into the regional meet. Shelby’s amazing.”
Maura Garcia is a runner that had a spot last year, but instead of slacking off thinking it was her spot again, she worked her way back in the top seven.
“She wanted to keep her spot,” Doyle said, “she knew our team was deeper this year, so she was like ‘I want to go to state,’ and she got that and it was really huge to see that as a junior knowing that we’re going to have to really count on her next year as a senior. She deserves to be at the state meet. Maura is a special person. She’s working hard, she deserves what she’s getting and being called a state qualifier for the first time in her life is awesome.”
Doyle, in jest, called Krystalynn Buesing, the seventh member of the cross-country team, a “silent killer.”
“She’s so funny because she’s a great actor,” Doyle laughed. “She’s really funny all year long, so people don’t know her like I know her, and I’m telling you, she just looks at me and I can tell when I got that look, that ‘I got this,’ and you can tell without her saying it. She just needs a vision. She knew who she needed to go get [at regionals], she knew what she needed to do that day to help the team. She was a huge part of our success at the district — not only last year, she was a huge part last year — to this year all the way through the regional meet.”
Those seven making it to state are a huge deal for Gonzales. Doyle knows that tradition must start somewhere and 2017 might be the year where it does for the Lady Apaches cross-country program.
“There’s a standard that’s set where now it’s just expected,” Garza said. “Hopefully [the under classmen] get that in their mind where they need to be at the state meet.”
“Yeah, just because we’re leaving doesn’t mean that they’re going to stop reaching that goal,” Cantu added. “They need to start pushing harder, especially when Haley and I leave.”
“All those girls deserve credit,” Doyle said of the new standard being set, “even the girls that graduated. They had to go through the grind of ‘hey here’s a new coach with a new system and a new crazy philosophy and here he is crazy,’ but that’s fine, I love it.”
There might be a bit of nervousness headed into the state meet, but Doyle believes that the pressure at this point should be off.
“Every meet from district to regionals, it was kind of like ‘if we don’t perform we don’t move on,’” he said. “This is the highest you can go as a high school athlete. State is state. And that’s the pinnacle. That’s what you want. You want to be called a state qualifier and eventually be called a state champion. The bonus is, can we get on the podium? The bonus is, can we get that gold medal? The bonus is, can we bring home the medal? But the pressure is off in a since that we got there, now let’s just go run and have fun and enjoy the ride, because we don’t have to qualify anymore.”
Even so, the seniors want to leave a lasting impression with their final cross-country race as a Lady Apache.
“All of us are going to be nervous and everything, but hopefully we run like we did in regionals, with a passion, but even harder,” Cantu said.
“Last race, got to get after it,” Garza followed.
“Since we’re going to go there, hopefully we come back with something,” Cantu added.
“Be on the medal stand,” Garza concluded.