Cross country Cats on fast track

El Dorado's Julian Marquez competes during the Wildcat Invitational this season. Marquez, an eighth grader at Barton, won the 5A South Jr. High Cross Country Championships this season. He's one reason El Dorado's cross country program appears headed in the right direction.
El Dorado's Julian Marquez competes during the Wildcat Invitational this season. Marquez, an eighth grader at Barton, won the 5A South Jr. High Cross Country Championships this season. He's one reason El Dorado's cross country program appears headed in the right direction.

It was a historical cross country season at El Dorado, primarily due to the success of junior Zach McMillon, who established a new school record and had the highest finish ever for a Wildcat at the 5A State Championships.

But McMillon wasn’t the only El Dorado runner to shine this season. That has Coach John Koonce smiling in anticipation of the sport’s future.

“We took another step this year. We still are not able to beat the elite teams. But we’re beating teams we weren’t able to beat in the past,” said Koonce. “You look at what we have coming back, and we feel like we can take that next step, but you have to take each year as it is. We’re optimistic about the future. We’re happy about the season we had but it’s all about what we do now. It starts now in the off-season. I give them about a week or two and then we start looking to what happens next year. For us, that has a lot to do with track, too. Track plays a big part for distance runners.”

The Wildcats finished fourth in the 5A South and 14th in the state meet.

“The varsity boys posted the best average time in school history, lowering the previous best average time from the 2019 team by nearly a minute,” said Koonce. “Zachary McMillon broke his own previous school record for the Oaklawn course by 15 seconds with his time of 16:26. He became the first kid to ever place in the top 10 at the state meet in the program's 23-year history. He was the highest placing underclassmen at the meet with the first three finishers being seniors. He also put himself in position to be the first kid in school history to qualify for the Arkansas vs Oklahoma all-star meet.”

McMillon finished as the runner-up in the conference meet, was fourth at the state meet and 10th in the All-Star Meet. He’s already preparing for next season.

“I improved over a minute since last year. Hopefully I can keep getting better. It’s a good confidence booster going into my senior season,” he said. “I already have personal goals set. I want to break 15:30 in the 5K. That’s my main goal. I definitely need to work on my finishing kick. I know I need to do that. Just keep high mileage. That’s one thing that will carry over to next year.”

At the state meet, El Dorado’s Riley Dumas was 58th followed by Charlie Conner 78th, Eli Rodriguez 119th, Jake Dilworth 140th, Oscar Garcia 146th, Aaron Yarbrough 160th and Ignacio Chavez 192nd.

“The team as a whole performed very well with all eight runners running a PR for this particular course. This group of boys worked very hard all year and took the program to a higher level than it has ever been,” Koonce said.

“We will be losing one individual off of this team going forward. Riley Dumas was the lone senior who was an outstanding runner all year long. He was just a second-year runner who had an outstanding cross country career. He will be missed next year, but the future is bright for this group of returners.”

El Dorado’s Corin Melear and Ainsley Colvin finished 10th and 12th, respectively, in the girls’ race at state with Melear earning All-Conference.

“The girls turned in the second fastest average time in school history, placing just behind the 2021 girls’ team that was led by Emma McGee,” said Koonce. “Corin Melear has been our leader for most of the season. She really found another level in the last couple of meets and we are excited for her future going forward. She was followed by Ainsley Colvin. She was kind of limited by a bit of a knee issue to close out the season, but I am proud of the grit that she showed all year. Our other four finishers were freshmen girls. This year was a foundational year for the girls where they should be motivated to build on what they achieved this year.” 

El Dorado’s future looks promising due to the returning varsity runners and also a deep crop of junior high athletes, including eighth grader Julian Marquez, who won conference in the boys’ race this season. Koonce said the overall numbers are rising.

“It's the highest numbers we’ve ever had in the program. Let’s give a lot of credit to our junior high coach Eric Cisneros,” he said. “I’ve wanted somebody at Barton since I’ve been here, and it’s never happened. We were finally able to get that in there and not only were we able to get somebody in there, we were able to get somebody who knows running, who’s passionate about running and is a hard worker. We think that will spell success going forward because there’s somebody there who will keep their eye on them, stay in their ear about what they need to be doing and make sure they stay motivated.

“As a coach, this was a fun year for me. The kids outperformed what they were projected to do going into the season and they did so because of their attitude and work ethic throughout the entire year. It didn't matter if it was over 100 degrees in the afternoon or 35 degrees in the morning; this group never complained, and they were motivated to improve all year long. We will miss seniors Riley Dumas and Lex Nash, the best manager in the state, but there is a lot to be optimistic about going forward.” 

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