Quilantan, Cardinals relay excited for long-awaited state appearance

HARLINGEN — The Harlingen High Cardinals track & field team has garnered a lot of statewide attention this season, largely because of the success of its 400-meter relay.

Pedro Luna, Eric Quilantan, Ezvyn Zuniga and Jose Garcia won the District 32-6A championship and set a new district record, running a 42.38. Then, they won the area and Region IV championships, too. The relay team became the all-time Rio Grande Valley record holder in the event this season, hitting a 41.60 mark.

The athletes will run together one more time Saturday at the Class 6A state track & field meet at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin.

“I think it’s their willingness to adapt to any situation (that makes the relay special),” Cardinals coach Efrain Ambriz said. “What we’ve asked of them, they’ve never let us down. They keep amazing us, and they’ve broken long-standing Valley records and succeeded at the highest levels. For them to do it together and stand unified as a team makes us really happy.”

Quilantan’s second leg has raised a lot of eyebrows as videos of the stellar relay circulate social media after meets. The senior also qualified for his first state track meet as an individual after winning the regional championship in the 400-meter dash.

“It feels really good. Last year we thought I could make it but we got cut short, so that kind of sucked. It felt good to get back out there and make my dream a reality,” Quilantan said. “Honestly, I’m really nervous but I’m also really confident in myself. It’s a blessing to be able to run and have the opportunity to go out there and represent the Valley, and show everyone up north what we’ve got.”

Harlingen High only had to replace one leg on the relay after last season. Zuniga, a senior, stepped in and jelled well with his teammates. Quilantan said the Cardinals “upset some teams at regionals,” and he’s assured by the training the team has put in that it can do it again at state.

“At the start it was rusty, you could say, because we had a new guy (Zuniga) on the relay. We had to adjust to things, and really working hard and trusting each other throughout the whole season made everything possible,” Quilantan said. “It shows how hard we’ve been working and training to get where we’re at. It was a struggle, but we got through the hard workouts and it’s all going to be worth it at the end.”

Ambriz said it was special to see the team accomplish goals it felt robbed of reaching last year, like winning a regional title and qualifying multiple athletes for state. Harlingen High may be going in with a target because of its outstanding season, but it’s a welcomed challenge.

“I’m so excited for Eric. He’s been a top performer for us all season long and this was the expectation, for him to make it to state,” Ambriz said. “We’ve been talking about it all season long. Now the final part is to go out there and throw down a time that’s going to put him among the state’s best.

“The expectation was to go out there and try to win the regional title so for us to be able to accomplish that goal was big for us and it sets a standard that we’ll seek to meet in future years,” he added. “I don’t think there’s any added pressure. The only thing it does is it motivates us and gives us that confidence that we’re among the state’s best, and that other teams have to be aware that we’re out there.”