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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Cross country bounces back


After a lackluster 2020 season, Texas A&M’s cross country team prepares for their season opener on Sept. 1. 

The Texas A&M cross country team is preparing for the upcoming season after last year’s squad was heavily affected by COVID-19 and the accompanying regulations. Despite these issues, the Aggies are looking to bounce back with many aspects of the upcoming season returning to normal.

Two of the top performers on the team are coming off of injury-riddled 2020 campaigns. Incoming seniors Eric Casarez and Julia Black are looking to make up for lost time after these obstacles.

Casarez is entering his third season as a member of the A&M team. After transferring from The University of Oklahoma, he had an immediate impact on the squad’s success, placing 15th in the 2019 SEC Championships. Since then, Casarez has achieved A&M’s third all-time finish in the 5,000-meter indoor and fifth all-time in the 3,000-meter indoor. 

The Fort Worth native was unable to compete in most of the 2020 outdoor season after suffering a foot injury during the LSU Preview Meet and was sidelined until the 2020 SEC Championship. He said he was disappointed in the results of the season but is optimistic his time off has prepared him to return to “2019 form.”

“I placed 36th, and going in, I wanted to place [in the] top five,” Casarez said. “If I could recap this year, I would say it was forgettable. This break has been much needed. I want to pick up where I left off in my first year and build off that.”

Black is entering her fourth season running with the Aggies. She has a decorated career at A&M, earning four placements on SEC Honor Roll and the school’s ninth all-time finish in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. The Keller native hurt her foot, which made it difficult for her to compete at the level that she was expecting.

“The injury wasn’t major, which is why I was able to run through it,” Black said. “But it was still mentally draining thinking, ‘What would I be able to do if I wasn’t being cautious with my foot?’ I wasn’t at my best, but thankfully, it didn’t show.”

The 2020 season was shortened to just four meets, and the team’s regular operations, such as practicing, team meals and working out, were heavily reduced. The athletes also underwent constant testing for COVID-19 to make sure the virus stayed out of the program throughout the season.

“I know I’m not unique in this, but I think it was the hardest year of my life so far,” Black said. “Usually, practice is like your home. You’re with your teammates everyday and it becomes your safeplace. It was really hard during COVID-19, being excited to see your teammates but still having the thought that you could get COVID-19 there.”

Despite these obstacles, the Aggies still had a productive season, with the men’s and women’s teams each earning top-five placements in all of the regular-season meets. The squad took a step back in the postseason, with the men placing ninth and the women placing 13th in the SEC Championships. Black and junior Gavin Hoffpauir led the Aggies, finishing 29th and 42nd, respectively.

A&M’s first meet, the Aggie Opener, is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 1, with the Aggies having spent the summer preparing for the fall season. Though many of the athletes spent the summer outside of College Station, Black and Casarez said they made sure to train with intensity during the break.

Black, who normally runs around 70 miles per week during the summer, has cut her routine down to around 40 miles while nursing a different minor foot injury.

“I like to plan out my runs at the beginning of the week,” Black said. “Coach [Pat] Henry always says, ‘Don’t let the day get away from you,’ and I like to apply that to the week.”

The squad is led by Henry, who enters his 17th season coaching the track and field and cross country teams. During his time, he has helped produce unparalleled success for the Aggies, leading to his induction into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2017. Henry and assistant coach Wendel McRaven, who is entering his 11th season with the program, have helped create a culture that emphasizes both accountability and guidance, Casarez said.

“The expectations of being an Aggie are big,” Casarez said. “Coach Henry means business and that’s what I really like about it. Coach McRaven is a really well-spoken guy. You want a guy who cares and who will do anything for their athletes. They’ve coached together for a long time and I think that benefits the team as well.”

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