CELINA — The Melissa girls and boys cross country teams each qualified for regionals with third-place finishes at the District 11-4A cross country meet last Thursday at Old Celina Park. The top three teams and the top 10 individual finishers earn spots at regionals, held this year on Oct. 28 at Grand Prairie.

Sanger claimed this year’s boys’ district championship and Celina prevailed on the girls’ title.

Leading the way for Melissa’s boys was junior Judson Greer, who took first place overall by a comfortable margin with a time of 15 minutes, 51. 22 seconds. Greer is the defending Class 4A state cross country champion.

“I was feeling pretty good,” he said shortly after finishing the 3.1-mile course. “The weather was nice, the course was pretty good. I liked the conditions.”

Gavin Frick of Celina finished 10 seconds back of Greer for second place, though early on Frick had nearly that much of a lead on Greer. “He made me hurt a little more than I thought he would,” Greer said. “He’s a good competitor and we’re good friends. I was pretty confident that I could get him, but he definitely made me work a little bit.”

Besides earning state cross country gold last year, Greer claimed the “triple crown” of distance running with state track gold medals in the 1,600 and the 3,200 meters as well. This past August, Greer ran a 15.01 at the Marcus I Invitational, besting his state gold medal time from last year by nearly two seconds. He was later ranked as high as 15th in the nation by Milesplit USA after posting a first-place time of 15 minutes, 6.4 seconds at the Chili Pepper Cross Country Festival in in Arkansas.

“That was pretty big,” Greer said. “I was happy to see that they had recognized me and put me up there with some really good guys.”

Asked if cross country training gets more difficult each year, Greer said, “It definitely can get harder over the years, just doing it over and over again. … It’s more intense every year, but also the payoff gets bigger every year so it kind of balances out. I still have fun with it. It’s definitely a difficult sport but it’s fun and I’m glad that I can keep doing it every year.”

Cards head coach Kelley Pitzer said Greer didn’t have to really cut loose this day. “He ran it as a training race, as a tempo run, just preparing for the next couple of races – regionals and state.”

Other top Melissa boys finishers in the 41-strong district field, with their times, included: fourth-place Lucas Tauch, 16 minutes, 37.69 seconds; 13th-place Tristan Weaver, 17 minutes, 51.72 seconds; and 19th-place Isaac Stonesifer, 18 minutes, 10.43 seconds.

“Lucas Tauch ran a good time,” Pitzer said. “He’s getting stronger every week just like the plan is set up - [our] three and four being Tristan Weaver and Isaac Stonesifer. Both of them really fought and battled hard today and had good runs.”

The Cards had won seven-straight district titles prior to this day. “It is a tough district,” Pitzer said. “It’s nice to be in a district like that, one you know you had to battle to get of. There are some districts that just aren’t that way. You can be very subpar and still make it regionals. … We’re going to have to work hard to be successful at the regional level.”

On the Lady Cards’ side, freshman Abi Bass dueled Celina veteran Adele Clarke down the stretch of their two-mile race, with Clarke nipping Bass at the finish by less than three-tenths of a second. Bass’s second-place time: 11 minutes, 34.88 seconds.

Next to cross the finish line for the Lady Cards was senior Alison Kocsis, a three-time state-qualifier who finished eighth in the 39-strong field with a time of 12 minutes, 36.28 seconds. Tori Tauch posted the Lady Cards’ third-best time of 13 minutes, 5.52 seconds and Madeline Graham was next, finishing 17th overall with a time of 13 minutes, 16.97 seconds.

“I just felt so good,” Bass said of her race. “I was so thankful for the cool weather and for the gift of distance running and the salvation that God has given me. I just felt so free today when I was running. Adele ran so well and I’m so happy to have competition like that. … My team is amazing.”

“Abi is a great competitor,” Lady Cards head coach Clay McCarter said. “She’s kind of in that 1-percent of all the athletes you’ll ever coach in your life. She’s physically gifted and talented, but she also works harder than most kids her age. … I couldn’t be more pleased with Abi’s performance today.”

McCarter noted, “We missed regionals last year, so the fact that we get the team back I think is a testament to their summer and hundreds of miles leading up to this point. I’m super-pleased. Alison Kocsis was our lone qualifier last year so for her to have some company at the regional meet is a nice relief. … This is a great first step.”

McCarter said his team is in good shape, health-wise. “A couple of aches and pains here and there but nothing alarming or to be concerned about. The girls, a lot of them just matured as runners over the summer and throughout the season. They’ve kind of learned what it takes to stay healthy.” He added that the Lady Cards are “fired up.”