ROUND ROCK – Trying out a new strategy on your sport’s biggest stage might seem like a bold move for most athletes.
But when Dripping Springs Tiger junior cross country runner Caleb Lopez bolted off the starting line in Saturday’s UIL 5A boys state championship, he instantly knew running faster than he had before was a must.
His gambit paid off 15 minutes later as Lopez secured a 10th place finish and a personal record time, highlighting a banner day for a Tiger cross country program that’s made trips to the state meet a routine affair.
“I had nothing to lose. We made it to state. I wanted to go out with the best,” Lopez said. “I knew if I went out, I went out with the best.”
Dripping Springs head cross country coach Marisa Tuzzi said Lopez’ podium finish capped off a year that was seen as a “rebuilding year” as far as leadership and athleticism. Having a team with limited experience, Tuzzi said the first half of 2019 was spent fostering team culture, leadership and cohesiveness.
“Once they came together, it was helping work off of each other,” Tuzzi said.
Getting back to state, and capturing a 10th place finish out of 16 teams, almost seemed out of reach, Lopez said. Punching a ticket to state was a challenge due to some struggles during the Region IV race in Corpus Christi.
“I was worried we wouldn’t get back,” Lopez said. “But we pulled through. It’s just amazing. I’m blessed to have the team I have.”
On the girls side, junior Maddie Livingston led the way with a 24th place individual finish, highlighting the team’s 7th place finish out of 16 programs.
Tuzzi said the Tiger girls gelled during the season, aided by a strong core of team leaders who guided the team to its 7th straight trip to state in as many years.
Providing a key boost Saturday was sophomore Marleena Mickel who overcame several injuries during the season to finish on the state course. Tuzzi said Mickel didn’t begin her first week of training until the last week of September.
“For her to finish, it’s incredible. She’s a true talent,” Tuzzi said.
While the team celebrated another season that ended in Round Rock, Tuzzi said she and her team don’t take it for granted.
Working hard and going out and racing the best race they could was the goal.
“It was a great day. We had lots of personal records. That, as a coach, is really all you can ask for,” Tuzzi said. “You can’t control the competition, but if everyone comes out and gives their best day, that’s a championship.”