When the elites line up for the state cross country meet Saturday in Round Rock, a couple of Vela stars will be among them. Jeremy “J.J.” Nino and Ramsey Moreno aced the field at the regionals in Corpus Christi and have earned the right to run with the pack for all the marbles.

Moreno, who led late in the race at Corpus before finishing a strong second, said that his motivation during the afternoon had a part to play in his terrific run.

“I kept telling myself, ‘you’re the best, you are the fastest,’” said the long-legged strider. “Not that I was being cocky, I was just trying to find a way to relax, and that seemed to work pretty well.”

Moreno, who has outdistanced an injury this year to qualify for state, came a spot ahead of the rugged Nino, who has been one of the Valley’s finest runners for some time.

“I was out for like three weeks with tendonitis in my knee,” Moreno explained. “I was bummed out about it, I missed a bunch of practices, I was in with the trainers a lot. This season wasn’t bad overall for me, but I feel I could have done better. But I have been able to get healthy at the right time, so now I am looking forward to going to state.”

As for the pressure of running with the top kids in Texas, Moreno was unfazed.

“My goal is to get top 10, I have been looking at the times,” he noted. “Right now, I fall somewhere within the top 15, or 16, so I think I have a pretty good shot.”

As for Nino, a hard-charging and gutty runner: he credits mental fortitude, among other things, for his success.

“I played football for awhile and that helped make me tougher,” said Nino, who spoke on his way to Sam Houston State Sunday for a college visit. “When the pain comes, and it will, how are you going to react? I don’t give up easily, I tend to tough it out and keep going.”

Nino notes that this desire is the key and it starts in the brain.

“Mind set, that’s what it is, really,” he explained. “You can see guys who are physically talented but their mind isn’t there, the pain hits and they give in. The last 800, that’s what matters. Do you keep going? I try to do that, even if it hurts. I try to have the desire to do great, and so as far as state is concerned, me and Ramsey, we have the desire to go up there and do it. I think I have a legitimate chance to reach the top 10.”

The senior runner said that he, Moreno, and teammate Mario Salas – a junior who narrowly missed the cut for state – have pushed each other all season to reach for and attain the heights. Nino has also driven himself in other ways, and that would include a star turn – with crowd-pleasing dancing – at the school’s pep rally Friday.

“Senior year and I have told myself that I wasn’t going to be ‘that guy,’ hiding in the shadows, all shy,” he said. “So whatever came up, whatever someone asked me to do, I have been like, ‘alright, let’s do it.’ I want to go out with a bang and do everything.”

VOLLEY PLAYOFFS: HOME GAMES MONDAY (EHS) AND TUESDAY (VELA)

Fresh off wrapping up the District 31-6A title, the Vela volleyball squad will take on Brownsville Hanna Tuesday, hoping to cop a playoff win on its home court.

The Lady SaberCats fashioned an 11-1 mark in district, beating North by a nose, and now work against a Hanna club with by far the worst record of any of the eight schools involved in round one’s 31-vs-32 slate. The Lady Eagles struggled to a 3-7 count in 32-6A but slipped in ahead of Harlingen. The team has scored just 10 wins in 2019, but Vela knows that in a one-shot deal, anything can happen.

The other city sextets in action included EHS (18-19), matched against Brownsville Rivera at home Monday, and North (23-17), which was to travel to Harlingen Tuesday to try its luck against South. Rivera (27-12) has been a Top 10 entry for much of the season, beat North twice but lost to powers Rowe (twice), Memorial, and McAllen in early tourney play. The Lady Bobcats came third in 31-6A with a surge of six wins in seven tries and will host the playoff game Monday as the distinct underdog.

North meanwhile is in with South, John Jakes-style, and the Lady Hawks (26-7) have been a very solid crew this season, tying for second in 32-6A with Rivera. They have non-district victories over EHS, Edcouch-Elsa, and Rowe to their credit.

These same three clubs were in postseason action last season, with Vela losing to Hanna in five sets, EHS going down at South in four, and North getting clipped by Rivera in four.