Jesus Cruz has waited patiently to lead the Mountaineers, but with Pacheco’s exit he is the undisputed leader.
“He had been in Isaac’s shadow,” said coach Matt Chambers, who’s in his second year leading the program. “Now it’s his turn. He is 100 percent dedicated.”
According to Chambers, the 6-foot Cruz is capable of the 17-minute range.
With Cruz setting the pace, the Mountaineers hope to qualify for state again after advancing by finishing fourth in Region 5-3A last year.
“It definitely will take a tremendous team effort to make it to state again,” Chambers said. “We lost about five or six seniors from last year.”
Junior Jacob Hixenbaugh and freshman Chandler Keith are staging a tough battle for the runner-up spot. Senior Brandon Gonzales and freshman Chandler Keith likely will round out the five scorers.
If anybody falters, senior Santiago Mancilla appears ready to fill the vacancy. The same can be said for junior Jerardo Fraire, sophomore Alexander Elliot and freshmen Brandon Johnson and Kevin Solis.
The Lady Mountaineers have eight runners on the roster after not having enough for a team score in 2012, and junior Jessica Gasper is leading the way.
“She runs in the 23-minute range,” Chambers said. “She’s a hard worker.”
Jessica Rangel, another junior, appears to be the next top scorer. Sophomore Alonda Bennett should push for points.
Battling to crash the top five are junior Leslie Perez, sophomores Taylor Price and Naomi De Santiago and freshmen Nevada Colter and Mackenzie Walston.
“We have a super young girls team,” Chambers said. “We have no seniors. The future is bright for them.”
Northwest’s boys have enough veteran performers for a legitimate shot at returning to state.
“We’ve got five of our top seven boys back,” Northwest coach Tom Sell said. “I like our chances of getting back to state.”
Those two departures, twin brothers Brody and Parker Cook — who earned spots on The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Boys Cross Country Team in 2012 — do leave voids. They’ll be part of the inaugural season at Dalton State College.
The Bruins finished third in last year’s Region 7-4A meet and were 14th at the Class 4A state meet.
“All five of those state qualifiers have run in the (18-minute range),” said Sell, who is in his eighth year leading the program. “They’re all capable of running in the (17-minute range).”
Sophomore Henson Gibbs has been setting the pace in preseason action. Other leading Bruins include seniors Lane Bramblett and Dylan Richards, junior Brandon Bolino and sophomore Luke Stevens.
Others competing for varsity time include Troy Poe, senior; Noe Castro, Drew Guffey, Phillip Hammonds, Brandon Heuser and Nathaniel Sparks, juniors; Carson Brock, Kyle Roberts and Skylar Williams, sophomores; Christian Burton, Lane Delay, Jordan Frye and Michael Pipkin, freshmen.
The Lady Bruins were fourth at region last year to set up their seventh-place finish at state, the best showing in Sell’s tenure.
“Our girls took a massive hit from graduation,” Sell said. “Of our seven seniors from last year, five are running in college. There’s no telling what our girls will do this year.”
Senior Caroline Duffy and sophomore Ashley Sweeney are the lone returning state qualifiers. Both are capable of clocking in the 21-minute range.
Likely to join them in the scoring are seniors Hannah Hutchinson, Dala Hufstetler and Abby Thomas and junior Tilea West. Others trying to make their mark are Whitney Wilkins, senior; Leah Frye, Nicole Gray, Hailey Henderson, Alma Muhtovic, Samantha Wooten, Kaitlyn Rabun and Emilee Shackleford, juniors; and Meagan Johnston, Emily Lugthart and Jen Rivera, freshmen.