Cross country boys refuse to fall short again

A year after falling five points shy of qualifying for the state championship, the boys punch their ticket.


Krista Edwards

Christian Smith, Elijah Merino and Jose Maldonado wrap up a morning workout on Wednesday. They all helped Kingwood Park qualify for state at the Regional meet on Tuesday.

Coach Kim Ackerman watched senior Osvaldo Jasso collapse toward the end of the final lap in the Region II Cross Country Championships on Tuesday. As he struggled to move, she knelt beside him.

You can’t do this unless you really love it, right? I think just having and doing it with my best friends, it’s just the best thing in the world.

— Jose Maldonado, senior

“If I touch you, if I help you, you’re disqualified,” Ackerman told Jasso. “What’s wrong?” 

“I can’t feel my legs,” Jasso replied. 

After watching Jasso spend weeks preparing for regionals, months preparing for the season and years of preparing for his senior year, Ackerman was not going to let him give up.

“You need to get up, you need to crawl up the hill, and start walking and get your legs back underneath you,” Ackerman said. 

With an impulsive punch to the ground, Jasso found the strength to lift his body up and steadily walk, then run, then sprint back to his spot in the race. 

Because of his willpower, Jasso finished in 57th place overall and fifth for the Panthers, giving the team the points needed to secure fourth overall and earn the trip to state. A year ago, the boys were devastated when they finished five points shy of reaching the UIL 5A State Cross Country Championships.

“We were not going to be five points down again,” senior Jose Maldonado said. “Either we were going to die on that line or we were going to go to state, and we just ended up doing both. We died on the line, but we also went to state. So it was perfect.” 

The other top four point earners ahead of Jasso were sophomore Elijah Moreno (8th overall), junior Clay White (28th), sophomore Carson Brown (41st) and senior Christian Smith (52nd). The Panthers finished with 178 points – 32 points ahead of Lufkin. 

The day before regionals, heavy thunderstorms, rain, and wind resulted in parts of the course being shut down and completely changed. Nerves began to quickly take over the team. But the boys knew what was on the line. 

“I have never been more nervous for a race in my life,” Moreno said. “I was shaking when I was standing at the starting line.”

Despite the nerves, the boys worked as a team to secure the fourth and final spot in the Region II meet. Now, the team shifts their focus on training for state. 

They will compete in Round Rock on Nov. 5. The seniors are grateful for the chance they didn’t get a year ago – and for one more opportunity to run with their friends.

“You can’t do this unless you really love it, right?” Maldonado said. “I think just having and doing it with my best friends, it’s just the best thing in the world.”

*Jacob Valcarce and Aidan Oakes contributed to this story.