Guyer cross country coach Jonathan Ponsonby points to a specific date on the calendar when his program took its next step.
On June 11, the boys and girls teams reported for the first day of voluntary workouts just a short time after school had ended. From that point, the teams have been on a mission.
Now, to some extent, that mission has been accomplished.
The Guyer boys team won the Class 4A Region I championship last week in Lubbock and will compete in Round Rock on Saturday at the state meet. Devin Norton, a junior, will make her third straight trip to the state championships to compete individually in the girls race after finishing fourth at regionals.
The boys team, which consisted of Colby Kuehler, Tony Perez, Blake Fowler, Ben Sterenburg, Leighton Baker, Manuel Rivera III and Alex Williams, will be making its first trip to the state meet after winning the Region I title.
“On June 11, we talked about not just winning district and qualifying for regionals but winning regionals,” Ponsonby said. “They ran out of their — I’ll say this: Every boy on that team raced the entire time. Sometimes there will be mental drift over three miles, but every time I saw them, they were racing, not just running.”
While none of the boys has experience at the meet, their teammate Norton has plenty of it.
The last two seasons, Norton competed in the Class 5A division, finishing 11th as a freshman and 23rd last year, when she battled through a nagging injury for much of the season.
Norton said the fact that she has two years of experience running the course at Old Settlers Park can do nothing but help her Saturday.
“I know what to expect since I’ve run the course before, and I’m hoping to do better this year than I have the past couple of years,” Norton said. “I’m really hoping for a top-10 finish this year. That’d be nice.”
The Guyer runners will be joined by district foe Brad James of Lake Dallas, who finished sixth at regionals, two spots behind Guyer’s Kuehler. The top 10 individuals in each region advance to state, as well as the top three teams.
Even though the girls team finished fourth, missing out on the trip to state by one spot, Norton said she’s excited and is hoping the boys can bring home some team honors.
“They really deserve to go,” she said. “They’ve worked really hard for it this year. I’m excited for them.”
But it almost didn’t happen, and Kuehler said he and his teammates were shocked when they learned they’d won the regional championship over El Paso Austin, El Paso Del Valle and powerhouse Canyon, which missed out on qualifying for state.
“We weren’t even expecting that,” Kuehler said. “After second and third were called, we were down and didn’t think we’d make it. We thought Canyon would beat us, but we made it and it was very exciting. We were pumped.”
Kuehler said the team’s experience running against powerhouses like Southlake Carroll in recent years has played a big role in the program’s success. Earlier this year, Ponsonby gave his runners the option of competing in the Class 5A bracket at Flower Mound Marcus’ meet, which consistently has a loaded field.
Instead of competing against the schools in their classification, the runners decided to go up against the best, and it’s paid off.
“It really helps to compete against the best and go up against someone better than you,” Kuehler said. “Moving down to 4A, we’ve been able to kind of wreck shop. We had the choice to run some 5A instead of 4A, so we chose 5A for the competition and kind of got our butts handed to us a little bit. That just drives you harder.”
And now the Wildcats hope that drive pays dividends Saturday as the boys will have a chance to win the first state championship in school history in any sport and Norton can add another page to her successful career.
“When I started this job a year and a half ago, I said I’d love to coach a team that becomes a family and then there will be champions,” Ponsonby said. “I don’t want to coach one winner and hope they drag everyone else along to become a team. That doesn’t happen.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .