By RAUL GARCIA
PROGRESO — Alex Pecina won first place overall in the Meet of Champions’ freshman division two years ago.
Pecina, a junior at Progreso, has been known as one of the best runners in the Valley ever since. His time of 11 minutes, 4.2 seconds in the two-mile event beat out PSJA Memorial’s Oscar Hernandez by a little more than six seconds.
After not participating last year in the event due to a conflicting event, Pecina is coming back to run in the elite division with his Progreso Red Ants teammates, and they want to win it all.
“When I won that race, I fell in love with the sport,” Pecina said about cross country.
His father encouraged him to join the team to use as conditioning for basketball season. He’s been running for the Red Ants ever since.
The Meet of Champions, in its 12th season, has brought together regional teams to race against each other. The top 21 finishers in the race are invited to the Meet of Champions banquet, where graduating senior participants are awarded college scholarships.
The meet is expected to draw 1,500 runners total in the boys and girls divisions. The event begins with the girls’ elite race at 8 a.m. Saturday at Donna High School. The boys’ elite race follows and the other divisions will run after that.
“We have 95% of South Texas schools participating,” Rio Grande Valley Cross Country Association president Hugo Cervantes said. “There are going to be some great races.”
He said in the boys’ elite division Edinburg Vela, Donna North and McAllen High will be among the strong teams to watch.
Runners with the fastest times this season coming into the Meet of Champions include La Joya Juarez-Lincoln’s Freddy Calvillo, PSJA North’s Hector Solis and La Joya Palmview’s Rosendo Rodriguez. The trio’s best times for this season are separated by 0.2 seconds. Solis won the Large School Boys Division as a freshman last year in 16:45.50.
Edcouch-Elsa’s Dominik Medrano, who has the seventh-best boys time this year, said the Yellow Jackets will be entering the meet strong and will pose a threat to the competition as long as their third, fourth and fifth runners remain close and finish as high as possible.
In the girls’ elite division Edinburg Economedes, Sharyland High, Wesalco High and Weslaco East are expected be very competitive with some of fastest runners in the Valley.
“The Meet of Champions is the Valley’s most prestigious cross country race,” Cervantes said. “Anyone who wins this race is declared the best runner in the Valley no matter what division they race.”
The elite division was created to pit the best runners against one another no matter the school size or division they represent.
McAllen Memorial’s Trevor Williams won the elite division last year with a time of 15:50.3. McAllen High’s Hunter Herrera finished fourth overall in the division as a sophomore and will be the highest finishing runner to return. McAllen Memorial won the team event with four runners finishing in the top 10. Sharyland Pioneer finished second followed by McAllen High.
Cervantes said Valley teams may run in their respective team division, but may not run in both the elite and school division.
The Red Ants, a Class 4A school, has won three of their last four meets, and four overall, and plan to run in the elite division.
Progreso was victorious at the Edinburg Invitational, Yellow Jacket Invitational, Mercedes Invitational and the Island Splash 4A division race.
“The meet is promoted to be the best of the best of the Valley,” Progreso head coach Ivan Gonzalez said. “We have built a tradition here at Progreso, and we know we can hang in there with any school.”