By Mike Schoeffel / Special Contributor
ROUND ROCK — Excuse Jesuit senior Connor O’Neill if he starts feeling like he’s been through this before.
On Saturday, O’Neill finished sixth overall in the Class 6A boys state cross country meet for the second consecutive year. As an individual qualifier, O’Neill established a new season best with a time of 15 minutes, 4.9 seconds over 5 kilometers. That mark was just 24 seconds behind first-place finisher Sam Worley of Comal Canyon.
“It’s not everyday you run a 15:04,” said O’Neill. “We have such a competitive state meet, and I just happened to have a very strong day today.”
The fact that O’Neill was able to make it to the podium last season is an accomplishment in itself. As has been widely documented, the 2015 meet was one of the soggiest, muddiest, and generally unpleasant events in UIL history. Yet O’Neill was able to push past the adverse conditions to place within the top 10.
The weather at this year’s state meet at Old Settlers Park couldn’t have been more different: sunny with highs in the low 80s. By the time the 6A boys took to the course, it could almost have been considered hot. O’Neill, too, was hot, staying with the pack early on before separating as the runners reached the home stretch.
“I got out really good and had a great day,” he said. “The first two miles we all stayed together and pushed the pace. After that top runner surged a little bit, I just stayed right behind him and ended up getting sixth.”
O’Neil has been Mr. Consistency for the past two seasons. Last year, he placed first in the District 9-6A meet, second in the 6A Region II meet (with a personal best 14:44.6), and sixth at the 6A state meet. It was more of the same in 2016, as he finished first in the district, third at regionals, at sixth at state.
Now that his varsity running career is over, O’Neill turns his attention to qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon on Dec. 3. To get there, he’ll have to place in the top five at the Nike Cross Regionals in The Woodlands on Nov. 19.
“I really want to make it to Nike nationals,” he said. “I’m just going to keep doing not necessarily what I did today specifically, but what I have been doing recently on the course. If I do that, hopefully I’ll be able to make it out to Oregon.”