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LadyBulldogs crowned Cross Country State Champions for third straight year

By Steve Golemon Special to the Courier

Photos by Shana Wilke
The Bandera LadyBulldogs 2016 U.I.L. State Cross Country Champions for the third year in a row receive their gold medals and UIL plaque. Pictured are Coach Steve Golemon, Kaitlyn Rodriguez, Sandy Clarkin, Abbey MacMillan, Salma Gutierrez, Alia Henderson, Caitlyn Thrasher, Ashlyn Persyn and assistant coach Kierstyn Dumond.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, the Bandera LadyBulldogs faced their toughest challenge ever at the U.I.L. State Cross Country Championships. When the Class 4A Division went to the starting line at 8:30 am, the LadyBulldogs realized that a huge target was on their back, since they were ranked #1 in Class 4A by the Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas and since they were also the two defending state champion team in Class 4A.
The one time Rodney Dangerfield of Texas high school girls cross country had gained a measure of respect as a result of winning the back to back state cross country titles; however, the 2014 and 2015 Bandera LadyBulldog state championship teams were largely different teams than the 2016 team, and the LadyBulldogs had not been ranked #1 in Class 4A until the final Cross Country Coaches Association of Texas poll.
Until that final 2016 poll, Kaufman, had been ranked #1 all season and based on the regional times from two weeks earlier, Kaufman appeared to be 66 points better than the Lady Bulldogs and definitely the team to beat. There was no doubt that Kaufman was poised and ready to move from a third place finish to the 2016 championship position in Class 4A. Naturally, the capability and ambition of Kaufman had loomed large on the minds of the LadyBulldogs over the entire 2016 cross country season and this was especially true after Kaufman totally dominated the 2016 U.I.L. Region II Cross Country Championships in Class 4A.
Unfortunately for Kaufman and the other fourteen Class 4A teams, running in the Class 4A Girls Division at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock at 8:30 am on Saturday, Nov. 12, they were unaware that they were about to compete against the best Bandera LadyBulldog team to ever run at the U.I.L. State Cross Country Championships.
At the starting line, all seven LadyBulldogs were mentally, as well as physically, prepared to take it to the limit, which they did before 8:43 am, as all seven LadyBulldogs finished the course in less than thirteen minutes. No other Class 4A school came close to having all seven of its runners cross the finish line under thirteen minutes.
In like manner, of the 110 runners representing the sixteen teams in the Class 4A Girls Division, only the Bandera had all seven of its runners among the top 44 runners of the 110 team runners. In an excellent team effort, all seven LadyBulldogs crossed the finish line before any of the other fifteen schools had five runners cross the finish line. The actual breakdown shows that the LadyBulldogs had all seven runners in before Alvarado (3rd) and Andrews (7th) had five runners finish and had seven runners in before Decatur (6th), Fairfield (4th) and Kaufman (2nd) had four runners finish. In addition, the Lady Bulldogs had all seven runners in before the other 10 schools had 3 of their runners cross the finish line.
If the times and finishes by the seven Bandera Lady Bulldogs did not prove that this was a dominant team effort, definitely the final team standings and point totals did, as reflected in the top five teams with Bandera (1) with 93 points, Kaufman (2) with 135 points, Alvarado (3) with 156 points, Fairfield (4) with 173 points and La Feria (5) with 178 points.
The 42 point difference between the 2016 champion Bandera LadyBulldogs and 2016 runner-up Kaufman is the largest margin of victory at the U.I.L. State Cross Country Championships over the past 3 years, easily surpassing the 10 point margin of 2014 and the 24 point margin of 2015 which had allowed the LadyBulldogs to capture their first two state championships.
The lone individual state medal winner was sophomore Ashlyn Persyn (8th/11:52.57). This is further proof that the 2016 championship was a definite team victory for the LadyBulldogs, since Bandera had two individual medal winners in both 2014 and 2015. This was the first time for Ashlyn to break the 12:00 mark.
The remaining six LadyBulldogs all ran under 13:00. For the other six LadyBulldogs, their order of finish in the field of 150 runners was junior Alia Henderson (16th/12:02.41), junior Sandy Clarkin (21st/12:12.99), freshman Caitlyn Thrasher (41st/12:27.60), sophomore Salma Gutierrez (65th/12:40.74), junior Abbey MacMillan (74th/12:44.66) and senior Kaitlyn Rodriguez (81st/12:48.81). All six of these Lady Bulldogs contributed to the Bandera final team standing by either scoring points (#1-5) or by pushing the team member to finishes from other schools further back (#6 and #7) in the race.
There is no doubt that the victory was an awesome team effort. The Bandera LadyBulldogs Willed It to Happen, and It Did Happen!