Shearer repeats as TAPPS State Champion, TWCA Boys win 5A team crown, Girls take 3rd

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HOUSTON - The dynasty has another chapter written.

On Monday, The Woodlands Christian Academy boys team captured its fourth-straight TAPPS Cross Country Team State Championship with 70 points and three runners finishing inside the Top 10.

"It's awesome for seniors like Ben (Shearer), Caleb (Bigler) and Josh (Mueck) to get rings all four of their years," TWCA Cross Country coach Tom Earle, who now has 10 state titles rings between cross country and track, said. "That's pretty special."

Shearer added: "Each year we had such a strong team and it's really influenced the way I run personally and my work ethic. It's really cool being a part of a championship team that's been there for four years."

The Warriors did this after moving up from Class 4A to 5A prior to this season and with a shortened schedule, due to COVID-19, TWCA only ran in eight meets.

"They worked hard," Earle said. "This year with the COVID challenges, gave us an advantage because we were able to work through the summer and able to work together through a lot of that time. But what also made it challenging for how we would stack up in 5A was because a lot of the other schools weren't racing.

"We went into it a little bit blind with regards to competition, we knew we had prepared ourselves the best we could."

The group was led by Ben Shearer, who won his second-straight individual TAPPS State Championship, posting a time of 15:32. That is nearly a minute faster than last year's championship time of 16:20. Shearer also currently holds the nation's third-fastest time at 14:39.

This was the fourth-straight year Shearer has made it to state. He finished sixth and fourth as a freshman and a sophomore, respectively, but capped it with back-to-back individual titles.

"I'm pretty happy with how things turned out today individually," Shearer said. "Coming from a very uncertain time in track last year to cross country this year was a little shaky. Just coming into this final meet for me in cross country, it's nice to cap it off."

Shearer is verbally committed to run at the University of Arkansas, where his older brother Josh runs.

"The deep field that Arkansas has captured my interest," Shearer said. "The campus is beautiful and just what they do at Arkansas aligns with my beliefs and philosophies as a runner. I love everything about their program and their school."

Seniors Josh Mueck and Caleb Bigler followed him with fourth and seventh place finishes, respectively. Mueck posted a time of 16:13, while Bigler came in at 16:35. Zachary Bagnoli finished 12th (17:11.4) and Seth Culberson came in 46th (18:36).

"The seniors did a good job to model what it looks like to work hard and the success that comes from that," Earle said. "They were battling. It was a tough race, a lot of guys went out really fast and our guys had to respond to it within that first mile and they did. By mile two they had separated into the spots we felt comfortable with where we were."

On the girls' side, The Woodlands Christian Academy finished third overall, marking the eighth-straight year they have stood atop the podium.

"Those girls year after year continue to reload," Earle said. "We've got two really awesome freshman girls. I like our chances again in the future to be strong."

The aforementioned freshmen were Zoe Calimani, who took 18th overall (13:03), and Camille Young, who took 25th overall (13:31).

"As you can imagine they were incredibly nervous going into this race," Earle said. "We used the senior girls with Fern (Shirley) and Megan (Hanigan) to set the right perspective for them and just race like they had trained. They came on strong, over the last 600 meters, Zoe passed six or more and Camille passed four. So, they stepped up right at the end."

Junior Lindsay Worthington led the pack with a 17th-place finish with a time of 13:02, while Shirley took 19th overall with a time of 13:04.