By: Elliott Portillo
The past weekend of racing has come and gone, and for the most part, the regional and national rankings remained relatively unchanged. Teams finally opened up their seasons while others continued to pad their resumes in preparation for the postseason.
Regardless of who raced, we are starting to get into the meat of the competitive schedule. Most of these updates and highlights can be found in John Cusick’s D2 review. If you haven’t read it yet, you should do so.
One of the teams John highlighted from this past weekend that needs a little more illumination is Tarleton State. The Texans had a big weekend of racing, competing against a number of established Division One foes, while also establishing themselves as a legitimate contender in the newest South Central Region rankings.
On Saturday, Tarleton raced against a competitive field at Texas A&M. They were runner-up only behind the host Aggies. They also knocked off some quality division one opponents in the process such as Tulane, Lamar, and Houston.
The Texans were led by Johen Deleon who finished 6th overall with an impressive time of 24:43. He has made major strides since 2017, improving his 8k PR by over two minutes (according to his TFRRS profile). He looks like he'll be a legitimate low-stick, which the Texans will need if they are to be kept in the regional discussion.
Also breaking 25 minutes in the 8k for the first time was Quenten Lasseter. He finished six spots behind Deleon, running 24:59. He too, looks much improved from past seasons and could close the gap between himself and Deleon.
The third scorer for Tarleton was Justin Botello. The sophomore continued to showoff the Texans progression, finishing 19th overall and running 25:16 in the process. Closely behind Botello came the Texans fourth and fifth scorers.
Michael Simcho and Kyle Doty closed out the scoring, finishing 25th and 29th while running 8k times of 25:24 and 25:31, respectively. If what is on TFRRS is accurate, every single one of the Texans’ scorers had a significant PR over the 8k distance. It should be interesting to see if they can translate this newfound fitness up to the 10k come regionals.
After a superb season opener, Tarleton State moved into the top 10 of a loaded South Central Region, joining fellow Lone Star Conference member West Texas A&M. This was the only move in an otherwise stagnant region. Their performance also puts them right in the thick of the Division Two running scene, while also putting other top programs on notice. Being ranked 10th in a region such as the South Central goes a considerable distance in comparison to other regions. It is also refreshing to see another Lone Star team breakthrough in a region dominated by the RMAC.
This weekend showed just how much the Texans have improved from previous seasons. It also reveals just how much room they have to improve as the season progresses. Their 1-5 spread from the meet in College Station, an impressive 48 seconds, has the potential to shrink even further if they can commit to smart pack-running. Their overall average from this weekend, a fantastic 25:10, could get even faster as well, depending on course conditions.
The fact that this group is running this well so early in the season suggests that they have a lot left to prove as they get into the important meets during November.
The Texans may very well be just getting started...
Although Tarleton has made significant gains (and has the chance to improve even more), their chances of qualifying for Nationals is not in their favor. The Texans have arguably one of the toughest roads to the national meet in the country, having to battle through the South Central. In a region dominated by established RMAC juggernauts like Adams State and Western State, there is very little room to move up. They will have to see rapid improvement from everyone if they are to crack through the top five of the region and have a legitimate chance at qualifying.
That leads to another issue: depth. Though the Texans have a solid one through five (and even a solid six if you include Jarred Elizondo, who finished 37th in 25:54), they can’t afford for any of their runners to have a bad day. This is quite a disadvantage when more established programs can get away with one or two bad performances. Tarleton will need everybody clicking when they toe the line at regionals in November. One bad performance could spell an early end to their season.
Another disadvantage and point of concern the Texans face is geographic. One of the reasons the South Central is dominated by Colorado schools every year is because of their proximity to high altitude. It will be a hard transition when the Texans travel from relatively low elevation in Stephenville, TX to the regional meet in Denver.
The men of Tarleton State are definitely a force to be reckoned with in the near future. Without a single senior in their scoring five, the Texans have the gift of youth on their side. They are one of the fresh up-and-coming teams in Division Two right now, and last weekend’s performance might just be a glimpse of the potential this team has if their core can remain healthy and hungry. Their route to Nationals is long and goes through some of harshest competition in the land, but they have the potential to break up the Colorado dominance of the region.
Doing so will take consistency, patience, focus, and Texas-sized determination. Tarleton State has definitely turned heads, and as the season continues to unfold, we will have one eye focused on the Lone Star State.