Sophomore Raul Villarreal became the third runner in school history to receive all-region honors Saturday with his 23rd place finish at the South Central Regional Cross Country Championships at Texas A&M.
Villarreal ran the 10,000-meter course in 31 minutes, 20 seconds to earn all-region honors, which is awarded to the top 25 runners. He finished fifth at the Southland Conference Championship two weeks ago.
“Raul accomplishing this feat as a sophomore bodes well for the future,” coach Greg Hinze said. “Finishing in the top 25 at this meet is a difficult thing to do, since most teams in the region have at least one person capable of accomplishing the feat.”
Kacey Phillips became the first female to earn all-region honors last year. Miguel Gonzalez was the first Bearkat to place in the top 25 in 1994.
“This is the second year in a row we’ve had someone do it, and we want to be able to do that every year,” Hinze said. “Raul finished in the ’60s last year as a freshman so he made significant progress in one year. He’s maturing as a runner, and he’s only a sophomore, so he’s still learning, developing and maturing physically.”
Hinze said Villarreal has a chance to earn an at-large qualifying position for the NCAA Championships in the future. The top two teams and the top four individuals not on a qualifying team automatically advance to the NCAA Championships.
Villarreal was the lone competitor from Sam Houston at the regional meet.
“We have two guys on the team who are injured, and we were doing good to get them through the conference meet,” Hinze said. “The other two guys are an 800m runner and a true freshman miler. I saw no reason to risk further injury or push the capabilities of our 800m runner and freshman after they ran so well at conference.”
Hinze said Villarreal’s performance and the team’s fourth-place conference finish should be a solid start for the indoor track season, which begins in January.
“I will be very disappointed if we don’t run really well in track season based off this cross country season,” he said. “We had two 800m runners in our top five, and if they can run five miles that well, they should run very fast for 800m or 1500m.”
The South Central Region is comprised of all NCAA Division I schools from Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. The University of Arkansas and the University of Texas advanced both their men’s and women’s teams to the NCAA Championships with their first and second place team finishes.