After qualifying for the NJCAA Cross Country Championships last fall, one could, perhaps, anticipate a let down this season for the Jacksonville College cross country teams.
That is not the case says JC head cross country coach Kirby Shepard.
“I am excited about both of our teams, but we still have a lot of work to do,” he said.
The Jaguars and Lady Jaguars have a little bit more practice time to get everything dialed in before opening the new season at LeTourneau University's Nicole Leman Invitational on Aug. 31.
On the men's side, three men who ran as prepsters at Cherokee County high schools are now traveling the hills and paths for JC.
Bryan Gonzalez and Leonel Velazquez, both freshmen from Jacksonville and former New Summerfield standout Brandon Chavarria comprise the local contingent.
Other freshmen runners include Demarcus Allgood (Waco), Eddie Gomez (Mont Belvieu) and Collin Dietrich (Port Neches).
Returning for the Jags are Andrew Deluca (Groesbeck) and Quitman-product Jacob Rowland.
“Bryan (Gonzalez) continues to run strong just like he did in high school,” Shepard saids. “He was our top finisher in our team time trials.”
The Lady Jags also return a pair of sophomore — Kelcey Cooper (Yoakum) and Cheyanne Porter (Timpson).
Newcomers to the team include Cristal Castillo (Mesquite), Brandy Guerrero (Pollak), Yulisa Solis (Tyler) and Makala Wiggens (Mildred).
“Kelcey Cooper has ran well and one of new kids, Cristal Castillo, has been running right behind her,” Shepard, who ran cross country at Southern Arkansas University, said.
Shepherd is beginning his third season as head men’s and women’s cross-country coach at JC. Since beginning the program in 2016, Shepherd's teams have shown great improvements, and he has continued to build both the men’s and women’s programs into potentially nationally ranked teams. His teams have not only been successfully athletically but also academically. Over the last three years his student-athletes have been named to the Dean's and President's Lists on eight separate occasions.