ROGERS — Had a poll been taken of the Rogers girls cross country team three months ago, chances are the Lady Eagles would not have imagined themselves competing in November. Led by a single senior and a junior, the youthful Lady Eagles — additionally comprised of three freshmen and two sophomores — not only had to contend with their inexperience but also welcome a new, albeit familiar, coach just a month into the season.
A new philosophy and top finishes became routine, though, and the Lady Eagles now believe they are capable of something special, a feeling they’ve ridden all the way to the state meet.
“We thought originally that we were capable of coming in and qualifying for regionals,” said Rogers coach Loyd Morgan, whose team will compete in the Class 3A race at the UIL Cross Country State Championships on Saturday in Round Rock. “It didn’t take long for us to see that we had the capabilities. The girls bought into it, drank the Kool-Aid and started believing they could do it.”
Rogers will toe the starting line at Old Settlers Park with senior Elizabeth Schiller, junior Day Vargas, sophomores Savannah Tuerck and Karley Powell, and freshmen Cruz Avilia, Marisa Llanas and Ashlyn Talafuse. Avilia led the Lady Eagles at the regional meet with a ninth-place finish in 13 minutes, 16.5 seconds as Rogers finished fourth. Tuerck (14:01.2), Llanas (14:03.6) and Powell (14:03.8) took 42nd, 44th and 45th, respectively, while Talafuse (14:35.2) was 67th. Vargas (15:16.5) placed 112th and Schiller (15:20.5) was 115th.
“I thought we would make it to regionals, but I wasn’t sure if we could get to state,” Avilia said. “With what I was seeing over the year, we were finishing in the top four or five every time. It really started to open our eyes as to what we could accomplish.”
Morgan, who coaches the Lady Eagles basketball team, had guided the cross country squad from 2005-12. He was given the reins again one month into this season in a sudden coaching change and demanded more of his athletes. The Lady Eagles responded positively and are reaping the rewards.
“Coach Morgan has been a big help to this team,” Schiller said. “He’s pushed us and really demanded a lot of us. He’s been great and really makes all of us want to run our best for him. He’s a big reason why we’re going to state.”
For Schiller, going to state with Rogers has been a long time coming. After attending the state meet with College Station A&M Consolidated as a freshman, the Rogers native returned to her hometown and has used her experience to help her younger teammates. This time around, she’s excited about not having to run as far.
“I remember walking the course back then and I saw all the Rogers girls and I was really happy to see them,” Schiller said. “I was running for a 5A school then and our race was three miles, so I was a little bit jealous that Rogers, a 3A school, only had to run two miles.”
The Lady Eagles haven’t competed in the state meet since 2016. While inexperience can carry a negative connotation, Morgan believes it has aided his team in getting to this point.
“They’re naïve about what’s going on,” Morgan said. “Their curiosity and the fact that they are better than what they think they are makes them fun to be around and coach.”
With a slew of talent expected to return next season, Avilia isn’t planning on Saturday being her lone trip to state.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of time left, so we fully expect to be back again,” she said. “At the start of the year, we were newbies. Now, we’re experienced and we’ll only get better. It’s going to be exciting.”