Some 40 high school teams from throughout Houston and as far away as Corpus Christi traveled to Sugar Land’s Imperial Park to participate in the fifth annual Cougar Classic Cross Country Invitational, held on September 28.
Nearly 700 runners competed in the varsity and JV divisions. There also were additional freshman and open races that were unscored and untimed. In all, well over 800 high school and middle school runners tackled the course. Most of them finish with both shoes still on their feet.
Heavy rains in the week leading up to the meet turned the park into a bit of a quagmire, with several locations that the runners had to traverse on the course turning into mud pits. In fact, not only was the going tough for the runners, but at least one truck got stuck on a portion of the course the day prior to the meet. And well after the conclusion of the meet, one middle school runner and her family were still attempting to track down one of her shoes that went missing in the muck and mire.
An unofficial count during one race tabbed no fewer than 18 finishers missing one – or both – shoes at the finish line. And quite possibly the most popular post-race spot at Imperial Park was the hose where muddy runners could take off at least a few layers of grime after finishing. (See the video below for some of the best – or worst – of the sloppy off-road action during the meet.)
Brandon Phegley was the lone medalist for the host Cougars as the sophomore turned in his best performance of the season, placing nineteenth in 17:25 over a challenging three-mile route. While Phegley has finished higher this year – notably his thirteenth place finish at the Cy Woods Invitational back in August – the quality of effort was superior to his previous races, even more so given the soggy conditions and poor footing at this meet.
Stephen Slage also saved his top run of the year for the home meet as he crossed the line as the second-quickest Cougar on the day, finishing in 18:57. Francis Ogbonna finished 96th – one spot behind Slage – in 18:58, while Jason Granados was the only other KHS finisher in the varsity division, as he stopped the clock in 20:45 – also a season’s best. Since they only started four runners, the varsity boys did not register a team score – team scores are calculated on a school’s top five finishers.
The varsity girls team, led as usual by Alexa Arqueta, finished thirteenth in the team scoring with 363 points. Arqueta, just a sophomore, paced the way for the Cougars with a 42nd-place finish in 22:20. Helen Wu crossed the line 25 places and nearly one minute behind Arqueta, while Iman Ahmed was third on the team another minute in arrears. Shanna Captain (108th, 24:44) and Zoya Alvi (109th, 24:50) rounded out the scorers.
Like their varsity counterparts, the JV boys did not field a full team and thusly did not factor in the team scoring. All three runners – Martin Bagadion, Hasan Yousef, and Micheal Cheng – finished in rapid succession in 24:12, 24:19 and 24:19, respectively.
And just as the JV boys finish mirrored the varsity boys, so did the JV girls with respect to the varsity girls – as they nailed down a 13th place result in the team standings. Mini Nguyen showed the way for Kempner as she covered a two-mile course in 16:40. Sofia Siddiqui was the team’s second runner in 17:06 while Kayla Nguyen (17:11), Kate Nguyen (17:51), and Amy Romero (18:03) comprised the scoring five for the JV squad.
The Cougars move into the championship portion of their season as the District 20-6A championships are next on the schedule. Held on October 11 at Kitty Hollow Park in Missouri City, the meet counts as the first round of the cross country post-season. The top three teams and top 10 individuals in the varsity divisions will move on to the regional meet while everyone else will begin preparations for track season next spring.
Follow the team through their social media account: @KempnerXC.