HOUSTON – Junior distance runner G.J. Reyna opened the 2017 season in dramatic fashion, coming from behind in the final loop to win the individual championship at the Norry Hersey Rice Invitational, as the Houston Cougar Men’s and Women’s Cross Country teams took second and third, respectively, on Friday.
“Everyone always talks about Brian (Barraza) being the guy and the leader, and he is, but it’s been great to see G.J. step up,” Head Coach Steve Magness said. “This is a guy that didn’t make our travel squad his freshman year for conference, and last year he took a step up and was in the 20s at conference, and now to pull off a win against a good field shows he’s taking steps and making progress. He’s going to be a leader. He’s going to follow in the footsteps of Brian, and that’s what we need.”
Reyna ran amongst the leaders throughout the majority of the 6,250-meter race, but it was not until the last lap that the junior made his move. With just the final stretch to go, Reyna sped past Jordan Leon of Sam Houston State and took the lead into the chute to finish in 19:49.72.
“Winning was my personal goal coming in, but to me that’s not the highlight today,” Reyna said. “As a team we really showed up. There were a couple of guys I was battling with until it was over. A couple of guys like Gabe Lara and Chris Wallace really came through today.”
Lara was the second Cougar to cross the finish line, following Reyna in fourth place with a time of 19:54.55, while freshman Devin Fahey crossed the line in 20:24.29 to finish 16th. Wallace and Matt Parmley finished right on each other’s heels with Wallace taking 18th in 20:26.23 and Parmley crossing 19th in 20:29.62 to round out the scoring for the men.
The men finished second overall with 50 points.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the men,” Magness said. “We didn’t run Brian (Barraza) or Blake (Contreras), who has been all-conference, and still we came away with G.J. winning and Gabe Lara up there in the top-4. The race of the day besides G.J. winning was Gabe, because if you look at where he was last year around 40th, to finish up there close to the top really is a testament to the work he’s put in to come back as a fifth-year senior.”
The women also turned in an impressive opening-meet performance, finishing third in the 3,900-meter race with 71 points. Houston was led by Ebony White (12th) and Meredith Sorensen (13th) who each returned from season-long injuries in 2016 and finished within a second of each other at 14:38.20 and 14:38.96, respectively.
The Cougars picked up their third top-20 finish of the race when Britani Gonzales entered the chute in 18th in 14:49.77, while Emely Morgado raced across the line in 14:59.18 to finish 22nd. Jahnavi Schneider capped the scoring for the women with a 24th place finish in 15:00.97.
“On the women’s side I’m really pleased,” Magness said. “Ebony White and Meredith Sorensen were both essentially hurt the entire year last season, and to see them come off major injuries and return and battle up front is inspiring and shows both of their characters and work ethic and determination. The women showed that they shouldn’t be underestimated. After losing their top two runners from last season, they kind of came in with a chip on their shoulder, and they proved that they can compete.”
Full results of the 2017 Norry Hersey Rice Invitational can be found HERE.
UP NEXT FOR HOUSTON
Houston will see a 15-day break before its next meet, when the team returns to action for the Texas A&M Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 23, in College Station, Texas.
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