As is sometimes the case in midwinter, the weather Thursday was indicative of the mercurial nature of the earliest stirrings of the track and field season. Cold in the morning, pleasantly warm with a vibrant sunburst by early afternoon, and once again chilly – very chilly, actually – by nightfall.
And as each of the city teams unwound for the practice meet at Richard R. Flores Stadium, the various coaches could indeed speak to the vicissitudes of The Beginning, as they dealt with absences, injuries, and the fits and starts that generally characterize – figuratively and often literally – the initial set-to of the season to come.
In attendance at the annual kickoff event were the girls’ teams of Vela, EHS, and Econ, along with the boys’ units representing the Jags and SaberCats, the visiting Rowe Warriors thrown in for good measure. One by one, the coaches told their familiar tales of mirth and woe.
“We’re just trying to get ‘em all out here and keep ‘em healthy once we do,” said EHS girls’ coach Alicia Ramirez. “We are still waiting on some basketball players, and the kids from cheer are starting to get into it now, which is good, because we will need them.”
One such cheerleader is rangy Natalie Martinez, who along with hoops standout Jayla Santa Maria should give the Lady Bobcats a top-flight tandem in the high jump.
“I am just now getting going,” said Martinez, who has experienced her troubles with injuries in the past but heads into her junior campaign having mastered 5-2 in the event; now she’s looking for more. “I figure that 5-6 will be enough to qualify for state, so that’s my goal.”
Ramirez can also count on a solid distance crew paced by Adriana Cruz and Vianney Sanchez; the latter went to state in the fall for the district champ cross country unit led by Coach Erin Sutton.
If veteran sprinters such as the Super Mom, Marissa Arce, continue to contribute points, the EHS bunch, perennially short on depth, should be right in the race for district honors and beyond.
Depth is something the Vela teams can mark down as a given, and the same can be said for the Econ thinclads. Bony Rios and Pete Segura, experienced winners, join point scorers Gus Vazquez, Adrian Saavedra, and Adrian Vazquez to give the Jags an edge, while the girls’ team under Coach Brenda Lozano has better early turnout than in past years.
Lozano, who now has the dual role of head honcho in both cross country and track, is a former star athlete with the pedigree of a winner, having been an All-American at Texas A&M-Kingsville, a thrower who still holds some records at the college level.
“We do have good numbers and the girls have the right attitude, they want to get after it,” said Laredo native Lozano, who speaks with certainty and confidence, qualities she is working on instilling in the Lady Jags. “We have got a great staff, and some volunteers who are willing to come out and help. That means a lot to the girls, and to me.”
As for the SaberCat programs, they’re doing the familiar hurry-up-and-wait routine as the season nears, sharing kids with other sports and hoping to maximize benefits despite the attendant rental agreements with softball, basketball, and cheer.
Coaches Diana Romero and Hernan Figueroa know that sooner than later, the pieces will start to come together, and as venerable mentors with more than 60 years of wars behind them, they have the patience and tact to wait out the maybes and the tomorrows.
The wild card for the Sabes is a dynamite freshman group of athletes, some of whom were on display in the sprints Thursday, though a few of the promising prospects are on the shelf with injuries.
And that freshman bump will be apparent for all the programs, because in track, unlike other sports, youngsters are often thrown into the mix due to their upside and potential. Coaches know that a freshman will sometimes be a freshman, forgetting their warm-ups here and getting themselves psyched out for little reason there. But the seasoning they gain by being part of the Big Team from the get-go will pay off down the line, with four-year lettermen that have ridden the rapids over many moons and been able to become seasoned vets in no time flat, pun intended.
In essence, though the practice meet technically counts for nothing, all the assembled understood that this was their first chance to show out, to count some coup and send a message – whatever it may be at this nascent stage – to the rest of the city gang. Fierce competition is on the way, and every day is an opportunity to make progress, iron out the kinks, and illustrate what is to come, in the offing.
The weather will soon warm to its spring task, and so too will the athletes.