Among the current stalwart names of Texas distance running, like Quinn Owen of Flower Mound Marcus and Elizabeth Reneau of Liberty Christian, arise new faces to challenge. Heidi Nielson and Libby McGrath are two of the latest to want the torch passed to them.
Both Nielson (Katy Cinco Ranch) and McGrath (San Antonio Home School) have extensive XC experience in their young careers, enjoying races at Foot Locker and Nike, AAU and USATF, and both opened the eyes of thousands at this past weekend's Texas Relays.
In a 1600-meter field that included Hockaday's Adoette Vaughan, Liberty Christian's Elizabeth Reneau (Duke signee), and Waco Live Oak Classical's Celia Holmes (Baylor signee), Nielson reigned supreme in a time of 4:53.43. This time ranks #2 in Texas and #17 in the U.S.
In her first XC meet, September 23, 2017's Brenham's Hillacious Invitational, she posted a time of 18:04.10 for a 1st-place finish. In early November, she'd run a 17:26 for a 4th-place finish at the UIL XC State Championships. She's won all four of her 3200 races this outdoor season, and she posted a 2:19.79 800 at the Victor Lopez Classic, good for 5th place. Yet it was her showing at this past weekend's Texas Relays that opened eyes and sent word for the future: Heidi Nielson will be a force to reckon with.
picture from Katy Cinco Ranch's Twitter
Libby has been on the XC radar for a while, having been named one of ASICS' XC FutureStars a couple of years ago. Without UIL exposure, Libby has managed to catch the eyes of those well-connected in Texas running, as her invitation to the Texas Distance Festival on March 17, 2018 helped solidify her abilities; she came in second with a time of 16:51.39.
Like Heidi, Texas Relays also helped introduce Libby to a whole new fan base. Battling Carrie Fish of Frisco Liberty (A&M signee), Quinn Owen of Flower Mound Marcus (Arkansas signee) and McKinney North's super soph London Culbreath, Libby proved she belonged: she finished second to Culbreath in a time of 10:36.63 (TX #4; US #20.)
Heidi Nielson and Libby McGrath - add these two names to your Texas distance vernacular; they'll be entertaining us at the high school level for another three years.