Bulldogs’ Blake Mortera repeats as 21-5A cross country champ
Blake Mortera earned another championship for Nederland at an especially muddy District 21-5A cross county meet at Claiborne West Park in Vidor on Thursday.
The senior improved on last year’s winning time by 29.2 seconds, finishing in 17 minutes, 25.3 seconds. Mortera was also the fastest varsity runner of the day, with second-place Gabriel Villanueva of Barbers Hill 3 seconds behind.
That’s all on top of a fall Mortera took after he had to jump across a muddy ditch along the track.
“I had to put myself back in the place I was before I fell, and it was just so exhausting,” he said. “I feel really good about yesterday’s performance of myself and our team especially. Yesterday’s meet was really, really wet and muddy, and also freezing, and I’d say I’m really sore today.”
Nederland coach Tommy Oleksy was likewise amazed.
“We’re really proud of what he did to defend his district title,” he said. “He’s been a great asset to our program, he works his tail off, he makes every practice. He’s a great leader for our team, doing the right things right, and it’s really good to see him run a faster time on a much muddier course than last year at that.”
Six of the top 11 in the girls’ 5K race came from Mid- or South County. Sophomore
Sanaria Butler of Port Neches-Groves took second in 21:30.0 after keeping pace with Memorial’s Bryanna Stevenson for much of the latter half of the race.
“She just turned it on for that last half mile,” PNG coach Josh Tanner said. “She ran a 21:30, which is a great 3.2 miles for a high school girl. It’s awesome for our area, she just blew my socks off, I was so excited after the race not just for her but for our whole team.”
Stevenson ultimately came in third at 21:49.0.
Ava Wiltz of Nederland was fourth at 21:59.0. With Wiltz juggling both varsity cross country and varsity volleyball in her freshman year, Oleksy is looking forward to the rest of her high school career.
“That’s just so special to have a kid that can handle being involved in two sports at once,” he said. “She’s very responsible and has just worked very hard and loves to compete, and we’re really proud of her for what she did this year.”
PNG’s top girls finishers included senior Anna Licatino, who placed ninth with 22:18.0. Licatino tore her ACL at the end of last season poll vaulting and this year had only run for about half the season, but Tanner is especially proud she’s managed to place all four years running cross country for PNG.
“Anna has lead our team every year since her freshman year when she placed first in district,” Tanner said. “To come off that ACL injury, Anna has qualified for that regionals meet for four years in a row, and I think that’s very impressive for her as a senior.”
Other PNG girls finishers were Serenity Poydence, who came in 11th with 22:33.0, Paisley Laing who placed 15th with 23:09.0 and Desire Robles at 19th with 23:21.0. The Indians had 48 points and finished second, with Dayton third at 67 and Nederland fourth at 81.
Nederland came in third in boys team standings with 88 points and recorded an average time of 19:16.12. The rest of the Bulldogs’ top five included Dakota Emerson, who placed 14th at 19:01.20, Nolan Heidenrich at 21st with 19:46.2, Blake Webb at 25th with 19:56.0 and Dallen Meche at 27th with 20:11.9.
Cyrus Jacobs, a transfer from Cypress Ridge, placed 10th with 18:44.3 as PNG’s top finisher. Keton Richard placed 18th with 19:40.9, Jason Lovejoy 19th with 19:43.5, Jonah Smith came in 22nd with 19:48.7 and Kaden Flores finished 29th with 20:16.6 to fill out PNG’s top five runners. The Indians placed fourth overall with 98 points, with an average time of 19:38.6.
Memorial came to the meet with two runners, Alexandro Guerra, who finished 30th with 20:22.9, and Nicholas Hart, who came in 40th with 23:05.4. At least five runners are needed for a team to score.
Barbers Hill won the team title with 29 points, and Dayton placed second with 57. Cleveland was fifth with 110 points and Vidor sixth with 143.
Among PNG’s top girls finishers include Anna Licatino, who placed ninth with 22:18.0, Serenity Poydence, who came in 11th with 22:33.0, Paisley Laing who placed 15th with 23:09.0 and Desire Robles at 19th with 23:21.0. The Indians had 48 points and finished second, with Dayton third at 67 and Nederland fourth at 81.
Claire Broussard was Nederland’s second-highest finisher, taking 10th overall with 22:28.0. Also for the Bulldogs, Grace Garrett placed 24th with 24:02.9, Isabella Darwin 29th with 25:24.5 and Karrie Anders 30th with 25:37.9.
Nederland finished fourth overall with 81 points and an average time of 23:54.46.
Barbers Hill won both individual and team titles, with Makayla Johnson finishing a whole 3:09 before PNG’s Butler.
The top three teams and any individual in the top 10 of a district meet advance to the UIL Region III meet at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville on Oct. 28.