Traveling 2,230 miles can take you from Sealy to Seattle, Wash. It was also the number of miles the Sealy cross country team logged in their seven-week summer program leading up to the season.
“They ran four days (as a team) and then two days they’d run on their own sometimes, but as a team, they ran 2,232 miles,” head cross country coach Anthony Branch said. “It’s pretty cool. I kept track of their mileage and they were able to see it all the time. I’d shoot weekly reminders and there were times they’d say, ‘Coach you didn’t get my mileage yet, I ran this.’”
The offseason was a couple of extra weeks due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Branch sees the summer foundation as a solid jumping-off point for the group of runners that features plenty of returners from last year’s teams that went to regionals.
“With all that I think we’re in a good position,” he said. “I don’t think as a coach you’re completely satisfied with what we’re looking for yet, but I can look back and see where we are at compared to last year. I feel like there’s somethings we’re OK in but I feel like now we’re going to be able to really jump in.”
Leading the charge on the boys’ side will be junior classmates Xavier Olvera and Daniel Medrano, Branch said, two of the top three Tiger finishers at the Region 3 championship last year.
“I really feel comfortable with those two. They really put in the miles in our seven weeks,” Branch said. “They’ve definitely put in over 200 miles and they probably did some running back in March.”
In addition, Branch will be returning a trio of Eschenburgs in Cameron (senior), Logan (junior) and Daniel (junior), the first two of whom competed at regionals.
“(Cameron has) been running the whole time with us,” Branch said. “He’s logged over 160 miles in seven weeks and he’s had Boy Scout camps so even when he was at camp I think he got his cousins to go running with him too. They did what they could to get their running in.”
On the girls’ side, Branch said senior Madison Manak will be one of the leaders for the Lady Tigers and was proud of her for the improvements she’s made since beginning her high school running career.
“This is a kid, her freshman year she couldn’t even run just 30 minutes,” Branch said. “She’d go 10 minutes then have to stop, but she kept coming back and kept working hard. Her sophomore year she finally made the varsity group and she actually advanced and ran her best (two-mile) time of 13:34.”
However, last year the coach mentioned Manak faced some adversity but Branch was able to give her the advice she needed to be able to bounce back and work her way to logging eight-mile runs en route to contributing 375 miles to the team total.
“During track season I think she almost got to a point where she was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore,’” Branch recounted. “I just said, ‘Don’t quit on it, there’s just some things you’ve got to fix, you’ve got to do some things on your own before you can take a step to get where you want to get.’ And I’m gonna tell you what that kid, after about two weeks, started going back out there … started out just getting two to three miles a day and she slowly built it up.”
For the first time in three years, Branch will have a varsity girls’ team to start the season which will feature Manak and senior classmate Coral Becerra, juniors Jenna Forrester and Hailey Arteaga and sophomore Hollie Brown.
Both squads will be competing in a new district after the biennial realignment of the University Interscholastic League placed Sealy in District 24-4A with Bellville, El Campo, Navasota, Royal, and Wharton. Still, the expectation for the season in Branch’s eyes is a return trip to regionals.
“By the end of the season it wouldn’t surprise me if both the boys and girls have an opportunity to win district championships,” Branch said. “When I first got here as the cross country coach, we had to build the program back up and get more kids but I think they’ve really bought in this summer.”