For years the Rio Grande Valley Cross Country Coaches Association’s Meet of Champions has served as the final measuring stick for the Valley’s distance runners before the start of championship season.

Nearly 60 teams participate in the event, which pits the area’s best distance runners head-to-head before their district meets.

“What makes this meet significant is it gives all the runners a chance to compete in the RGV against the best of the best,” RGVCCCA president and Sharyland Pioneer girls cross country head coach Brenda Lozano said. “This meet is imperative to give these athletes a chance to prove themselves. It opens up opportunities for them.”

In recent years, the meet has become more than just a measuring stick against Valley competition.

The meet’s past 12 individual boys and girls champions have all used the meet as a catapult toward success during the championship season, each qualifying for the state meet after their Meet of Champs victory.

Former Brownsville Rivera athlete Andrea De La Rosa picked up a pair of Meet of Champions wins in 2016 and 2018, using her first to spark a successful career which included three District 31-6A titles, two top-five regional finishes and three state meet appearances.

Former PSJA North distance runner Hector Solis similarly used his 2021 Meet of Champions victory to vault him into a dominant championship season, winning the District 31-6A crown, while adding top-five finishes during the regional (2nd) and state meet (4th).

Both athletes went on to earn opportunities to compete at the next level.

“I think we’ve stepped up our game here in the RGV,” Lozano said. “You can tell in the difference of the teams and athletes. I think that’s why this meet is so awesome. … We’ve really represented at the regional and state level really well in the past years and we just keep growing and growing. It comes down to us really pushing our kids with meets like these and to meet those expectations. I just feel like cross country is just growing and growing in the RGV.”

This year’s group of runners expect much of the same as those of the past, with several big names set to highlight the meet.

One of the biggest is two-time Meet of Champions girls champions San Juanita Leal. The Edinburg North senior picked up her first career varsity victory as a sophomore during the meet in 2021.

Since then, Leal has been on a tear, winning back-to-back District 31-6A titles, a Region IV-6A championship (2022) and earning a top-five finish at the Class 6A state meet (2022).

Edinburg North’s San Juanita Leal competes in the RGV XC Invitational at the Monte Cristo Golf Course in Edinburg. Leal is the favorite to win her third straight Meet of Champs title. (Joel Martinez | The Monitor)

In the boys division, a new champion is set to be crowned with former McAllen Memorial distance runner and current Oklahoma State athlete Ayden Granados gone to graduation.

Granados’ departure opens the door for a new face to take the status of the RGV’s top distance runner and possibly vault themselves into statewide success.

La Feria twins Anthony and Armando Morales are two of the favorites to win the event, both holding top-four seeding times heading into the meet. Anthony enters the event with the fourth best seeding time, clocking in at 15 minutes, 32.1 seconds, with Armando holding the second-best time at 15:19.75.

Edcouch-Elsa’s Juan Aguinaga Jr. and Edinburg North’s Alexis Rodriguez are two other contenders, ranking first (15:19.5) and third (15:25.0) in seeded times, respectively.

La Feria’s Anthony Morales (472) and Armando Morales (473) are two of the RGV’s top distance runners this year. They’ll look to earn the Meet of Champs individual title today. (Ivan Palacios | RGVSports)

“I’m just excited for this race,” Armando said. “There is a lot of competition, and it is a great opportunity for some good times. Winning a race like this is on my checklist. I want to win every single race I’m in, but the thought of winning a race of this caliber gets me excited for district, regionals and state. I’m just happy to be able to be in this type of group and in the talk as one of the good runners in the RGV.”

The 2023 RGVCCCA Meet of Champions is scheduled for Saturday at Sharyland Pioneer. The meet’s events begin with the Elite Girls 5K at 8 a.m. with the Elite Boys 5K set to follow at 8:30 a.m. The elite races are followed by 5A/6A varsity girls and boys races, sub-5A/JV boys and girls races and freshman boys and girls races.

Check for full results from all of the meet’s races.

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