Photo: Jason Fochtman, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
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On Friday, the University Interscholastic League lessened the amount of runners who will advance in postseason races for the upcoming season and also made some adjustments to the season calendar.
The big change is the amount of teams that will qualify for the regional meet from the district meet and from the regional meet to the state meet.
For the upcoming season, the UIL shortened team qualifiers from the district meet to two teams from the usual three. Four teams normally advance from the regional meet to the state meet, but that will be trimmed down to three teams.
The UIL did not change the amount of individuals that can advance. It remains that the top 10 runners from the district meet advance to the regional meet. The top 10 regional individuals not on a qualifying team advance to the state meet.
In an email to The Courier, the UIL clarified that its reason to cut down on teams advancing through the postseason was to help limit the amount of people on site at those meets during the pandemic. They also split up the regional meets and state meet into two-day events for that reason.
Willis cross country coach Dana Fossmo was disappointed for the runners having lesser of a chance to advance in the postseason this year. The Wildkats and Ladykats will be competing in Class 6A for the first time and faces a strong district field with The Woodlands, College Park, Oak Ridge, Conroe and Grand Oaks.
“I’m very disappointed because we finally thought we were making in roads to getting kids that deserve to be at the state meet to the state meet,” the longtime coach said. “I think it’s the wrong move and you’re sending the wrong message.”
Marquis Bean is the new head coach at Magnolia and when he heard the news Friday began to think about how tough the postseason will be now that the odds of advancing have shifted some.
“I think it makes it hard on some of the stronger regions,” he said. “You have some talented teams who now probably won’t get out. You may have some kids that are really good, but just miss the cut. It’s just kind of disappointing.”
Looking back at 2019, five Montgomery County teams that advanced from the district meet to the regional meet would not qualify this year based on the changes. The Magnolia West Lady Mustangs were a fourth-place finisher at the Region III-5A meet a year ago to advance to the state meet. The Lady Mustangs wouldn’t advance to the state meet from that position this season.
“One of the reasons I got into coaching was for kids,” Fossmo said. “I want kids to become the best they can be and this is sort of taking this out of our hands.”
Bean, who takes over a Magnolia program that sends teams or individuals nearly every year to the state meet, understood why the decision was made.
“They’re just trying to limit the people, especially in certain areas,” he said. “That’s probably the biggest theory of why they did this. I can understand. But at this point, we just want to run. At this point, I’ll take whatever they give us.”
A big adjustment made on the calendar was the UIL Cross Country state championships were moved up 12 days earlier than the Dec. 5 date originally announced and split into two days worth of races.
The new dates for the state meet will be on the Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. Class 1A, 3A and 5A will run Nov. 23 while Class 2A, 4A and 6A will run on Nov. 24.
District certification will now take place on Oct. 31 (moved up from Nov. 14) and the new dates for regional meets will cover two days instead of its normal one-day event. On Nov. 9-10, three regional races will run per day at each site with the other three the following day.
Fossmo didn’t see Friday’s changes coming, but at the same time wouldn’t be surprised to see more adjustments as time goes on.
“I don’t think this is last of the changes myself,” he said. “But you have to be flexible, you have to be patient. People are doing the best they can to safely do things. We’re just rolling with the punches. What can you do?”
Despite those team spots at the regional and state meets disappearing, Fossmo is looking forward to Willis’ season. They will host the District 13-5A meet in October and have a group that is less experienced, but ready to run.
“We’re just going to do the best we can with what we’ve got,” Fossmo said. “My team is one of those that’s in the growing process and hopefully getting better in the process.”
“What I always try to do is bring it down to us. We’ve been working all summer and now we’re working into the fall. We have goals individually and team-wise. That hasn’t changed. We’re still trying to be the very best team we can by the time we get to district meet.”
Splendora, Montgomery County’s lone Class 4A program, will be able to have its first meet of the season starting Aug. 17. The Class 5A and 6A programs from the county begin their season on Sept. 7.
The adjustments were made on the calendar released by the UIL on July 21 when the it laid out its plan to proceed with fall sports amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in Texas.
“We’re going to be as competitive as we can be,” Fossmo said. “That’s my job is to get them ready mentally, physically and spiritually so that when they get to that starting line, they are ready to run the best race they’ve ever ran.”