Cross country sends Escamillo to state

Both boys and girls teams deal with Covid-19 issues, boys compete against each other instead of other teams and take 6th at regionals


Diana Torez

Training for cross country

Junior Jesus Escamilla heads to Austin for the state cross country competition. It’s no surprise to his coach of three years Tara Yeater.  She has nurtured him and other cross country runners to build their confidence and to challenge them to stretch themselves.

Since Yeater took over the cross country team four years ago, success has been in the team’s DNA. The boys have gone to regionals three years in a row and the girls two years in a row prior to this year.

Escamilla joined the cross country team his freshman year. He’d done exceptionally well in middle school and made West’s varsity team easily. Still he was a little timid, running with the big guys as a freshman.

“He didn’t know he was the best we had,” Yeater said. “By the end of the year, it just clicked.”

He has continued to build.

“He’s stepping out,” Yeater said. “His times are dropping lower all the time. I set goals for them and he beats them.

“I tell them they need to run 5 or 6 miles,” Yeater said. “They (the seniors and Escamilla) on the team) say they will go 10.”

That enthusiasm and love of the sport took the boys team to regionals for the third year in a row. The enthusiasm and passion Yeater puts into the team has helped both the boys and the girls teams push themselves.

Yeater isn’t one to pat herself on the back but she does think her enthusiasm for the sport and the runners makes a difference. She calls herself passionate about it.

“I think it’s true of any coach,” Yeater said of success with a team. “Get a coach that’s enthusiastic about it – passionate about it – and it transfers to the kids.”

That passion has paid off for both the boys and girls teams who had to struggle to get through their spring seasons being cut short by the coronavirus pandemic.

Not having a track season last spring hurt recruiting and, for a while, the excitement they had about running.

“They were depressed about not being able to finish their season,” Yeater said. “We had to do something to get their enthusiasm back up.”

They found apps from Adidas and Nike. They ran with each other even though they were running their own courses. They competed for times and distance. They cheered each other on. When they went running on their own, the apps reported who was out running. Yeater would send them messages through their headphones to encourage them.

They also had a friendly competition with North Mesquite where Yeater’s sister Tamra Jernigan is in her first year as the cross country coach.

That worked to get them through the summer and back to the cross country season.

But even that wasn’t as easy.

UIL set rules that allowed only a few teams to compete at a time. So Mesquite, Dallas, Garland and Richardson formed a circuit to have meets rotate between them. JV teams weren’t allowed to compete at the same meets as varsity due to the rules limiting the number at meets.

Both teams are small this year with 15-16 girls and 10 boys, seven on varsity. The boys JV team didn’t have enough members to field a team so Yeater asked JV boys soccer coach Jeremiah Villarreal to help fill out the team for a JV meet. She hopes some of them enjoyed it enough to join the team next year.

It turned out that the competition for varsity wasn’t as stiff as they would have liked it to be. The girls won the first three meets and senior Stephanie Tamayo came in first at the first two meets. But the lack of competition took its toll on the girls team who didn’t advance to regionals. It was too easy for them to beat lesser teams without pushing themselves.

The boys team was another story. Rather than competing against other schools, they competed against each other. They focused on times rather than places. The competition between them boosted the boys, Yeater said.

One of the seniors, Jeovani Elias was more than just a great runner. Yeater credited him for encouraging the team to succeed.

“He was a cheerleader,” Yeater said, then changed her mind. “No, he was more like an assistant coach.”

She saw that in him when he had to sit out two weeks in the 2019 season with an injury. He never missed a day. He was there pushing the runners to do their best whether it was running the bleachers or one of their many runs around Mesquite.

This year, Elias ran a consistent No. 3 on the team and advanced to regionals.

“The team is a close-knit bunch,” Yeater said of the boys, four of whom are seniors. “They know they are in their last season and they are working hard.”

The other seniors who filled out the team included Joe Morales, Johan Gutierrez and Felix. Along with Elias, they made it to regionals. Junior Escamilla, sophomore Dezmyn Elias and freshman Matthew Torres fleshed out the varsity team.

Yeater reflected on the group. Morales, she said, was depressed when the season was called in the spring.

“You can’t take running from him,” Yeater said. “It motivated him to keep his grades up because he loves running.”

Huizache had been a middle of the pack JV runner his freshman and most of his sophomore year. He didn’t get to run in the meets because of his grades. He told Yeater he wanted to go to a meet. They met with his teachers and he got his grades up.

“He got excited,” Yeater said. “His junior year, he was one of the top runners.”

Despite Escamilla being a junior, it didn’t leave him behind the seniors. While all competed against each other, it was Huizache who gave Escamilla a run for the money.

“Jesus had to back down to beat Felix,” Yeater said. And he did.

So the boys team advanced to regionals where they placed sixth. Escamilla came in sixth individually as well, putting him in the top 10 who advance to state.

Yeater and the older Elias are going with Escamilla Sunday. He runs Monday for his place in West Mesquite history.

And it truly is history.

The last time a runner from West made it to state was 1991. That’s just a year short of 30 years ago.