Harlingen High senior Jose Garcia soars through the air during the boys long jump competition during the UIL's Class 6A State Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Mike A. Meyers Stadium in Austin. (Robert Villafranca | Special to The Monitor)

AUSTIN — A senior superstar and a freshman phenom stole the show with a pair of second-place finishes to lead a group of five Rio Grande Valley athletes competing in the UIL’s Class 1A and 6A Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Mike A. Meyers Stadium in Austin.

Harlingen High’s Jose Garcia and Lasara’s Xiomara Rodriguez each won silver medals in the 6A boys long jump and 1A girls discus throw, respectively, during the field event morning session of Saturday’s state meet.

Garcia and Ramirez became the fourth and fifth RGV track and field athletes to earn spots on the podium at the 2021 state championships, joining Sharyland Pioneer senior Daisy Monie, Port Isabel junior Madison Ramos and PI senior William Camacho.

“It feels great,” Garcia said. “It’s an honor because this has been my dream since freshman year. I really like being up there (on the podium).”

“It feels amazing. Being a freshman, this is a really big accomplishment for me,” Rodriguez said. “It was all about my family supporting me and practicing every day for hours and spinning on my feet.”

Garcia, who made his return to the state meet after qualifying in the 100-meter dash as a sophomore in 2019, leaped his way onto the podium in his first of four events at the state meet Saturday.

The Cardinals’ senior recorded the second-longest jump of his high school career with a mark of 24 feet and 1 inch.

Garcia ramped up to his near-PR jump on his fifth of six attempts, vaulting him from fifth place into second.

He beat out Katy Tompkins freshman Kayden Keys for silver by 1.75 inches but nearly missed out on gold by 0.25 inches to Austin Westlake sophomore Ashton Torns, whom Garcia topped for the regional title at the Region IV-6A meet two weeks earlier in San Antonio.

“It was good,” he said. “We were trying to figure it out, me and my coach, but after the second jump, I was really confident to go and get a mark. I got beat by a quarter-inch and was very close to gold, but it is what it is. It happens and I’m proud of what I got.”

Rodriguez, meanwhile, made her debut at the state championships in style.

The Lasara freshman qualified in both discus and shot put, and found her way onto the podium in her first event.

Rodriguez’s throw of 121 feet helped her claim a silver medal in discus and edge out Cherokee’s Abigail Medrano for second place. She also claimed a seventh-place finish in shot put with a 34-foot, 10.25-inch throw.

“I’ve been doing shot put and discus since I was 9 years old,” she said. “My older brothers, who are out of college and married with kids now, would always practice with me and give me tips and tricks on where to put my feet and how to work on my technique.”

San Isidro junior Jaime Mendoza garnered seventh place in the 1A boys long jump with a leap of 19 feet, 9.25 inches, while a pair of RGV high jumpers also competed in the morning session’s field events and earned sixth and seventh-place finishes.

San Perlita’s Ely Terry, a decorated basketball standout, took sixth in the 1A boys high jump with a clearance of 5 feet and 10 inches, while Weslaco High sophomore Jayda Hough won seventh in the 6A girls high jump after clearing the bar at 5 feet, 2 inches.

“It feels so amazing and I’m so grateful for the opportunity,” Hough said. “It’s a dream come true and this season was even better than I expected.”

Weslaco High sophomore Jayda Hough leaps over the bar during the girls high jump competition during the UIL’s Class 6A State Track & Field Championships on Saturday at Mike A. Meyers Stadium in Austin. (Robert Villafranca | Special to The Monitor)

After taking her first second-place finish of the season in the District 32-6A meet, Hough rallied to post back-to-back personal records in the high jump to win individual titles at both the area and regional meets in April to advance to state.

She and Rodriguez each posted stellar performances in their first appearances at the state championships with both stating the confidence gained from the experience will help propel them toward their eventual goals of capturing individual state championships in the future.

“I was so thankful to PR and win both area and regionals. That alone was a huge blessing and this was just another huge opportunity,” Hough said. “It’s something I’ll get used to because I’ll be back here. … This is definitely a lot different from the Valley, but it’s all about having fun. Everyone is nervous, so when you just have fun and make friends, it makes it all that much more enjoyable.”

“I’ve got to still believe in myself. When you see other competitors throwing farther than you, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m never going to make it or reach it.’ It’s a mental thing,” Rodriguez said. “It’s cool to be a role model for younger throwers and other competitors as well. … I’m also trying to break the state record.”

Garcia, meanwhile, began a busy day with his triumph in the high jump, leading all Valley competitors at any classification level by competing in four state championship events including the 100 and 200-meter dashes as well as the 4×100 meter relay.

He was thankful for the opportunity to compete at the state meet again in front of a large contingent of Cardinals’ supporters after having his junior season cut short by the start of the COVID-19 pandemic after competing in just one meet.

“Working and doing our stuff on Zoom was very difficult for us, especially with timing trying to get to school to get into the weight room with a lot of other programs going in there. It was frustrating, but (our) coach always had an idea to put us on the field or track to work,” Garcia said.

“It feels great showing out for the kids and showing them they can do anything that I can, especially when you work so hard. I know they have dreams to be up there too on that podium and be here in a lot of events like me, but it’ll happen as soon as possible. I know there are some up-and-coming athletes who are going to do amazing next year.”

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Twitter: @ByAndyMcCulloch