2022 CROSS COUNTRY PREVIEW: Longhorns’ Nguyen one to watch after stellar freshman year
Melissa Nguyen had an idea her daughter, Sophia, might be a gifted athlete when Sophia ran the “Girls on the Run” race for her school in the fourth grade.
“Whenever she ran, her coach would have me come and run with her because she was the fastest one,” Melissa said. “I’d run and keep up with her so that he could be with the other girls. In that moment, I felt like she could be on to something.”
Fast forward about six years and Sophia is already one of the top distance runners in the Greater Houston area as a sophomore.
Nguyen had a spectacular freshman campaign last year at George Ranch, finishing 27th at the UIL Class 6A cross country state meet with a personal record of 18:34.40 and placing third in the 1600-meter (5:13.91) and 3200-meter (11:27.02) runs at the regional track and field meet in the spring.
Nguyen’s finish at the state cross country meet was sixth-best among all Greater Houston women area runners, regardless of class.
In four cross country meets leading up to the postseason last fall, Nguyen finished no worse than sixth and was runner-up twice. It was her first year running 5K competitions.
“I didn’t really go into last year with a lot of expectations, being my freshman year,” Nguyen said. “But now I have more expectations from that. I really want to consistently be under 19 (minutes) and drop times from last year.”
Nguyen, an avid swimmer, started running cross country in the seventh grade.
“I like competing and being able to get better each time,” she said. “I went into seventh grade thinking I could be pretty good at it, and I’ve used that to be the best I can be.”
Nguyen said the biggest adjustments for her last year was the quality and quantity of competition and the distance, building up from 2K runs to the 5K state meet.
Nguyen credited her PR at state to good racing strategy, starting off slower than she generally does and picking up pace in the middle of the race instead of slowing down. She worked on her form this offseason, particularly in keeping her arms and shoulders still and more even.
Nguyen has emerged as the top runner on a Longhorns girls cross country team that enters 2022 having won 11 straight district championships.
“Sophia is naturally a competitor and that’s something that cannot be coached,” George Ranch girls cross country/track coach Alicia Dutch said. “She has the heart of a champion. She is one to cheer on her teammates upon her finishing her race, never complains about a workout and always says, ‘Coach, I trust you’ when we are strategizing collectively on what is needed to keep her growing in the sport.”
Nguyen has been swimming since she was five years old, though only for a club team, First Colony Swim Team. She said swimming and running complement each other.
“When I’m not swimming, I’m running, and when I’m not running, I’m swimming,” Nguyen said. “I’m always getting some sort of distance training. They’re definitely very similar.”
Nguyen is excited to see what this season has in store. She’s learned to feed off the strong anxiety she has before races and use that as fuel. Her confidence is sky high.
“She’s very intrinsically motivated, so everything she does and everything everybody sees is herself,” Melissa said. “She’s the one who wants to do better and be better. She has that drive.”
Nguyen yearns for the destination while respecting the journey.
“If I push myself harder now, I can feel better when I finish,” Nguyen said of her mindset during races. “It’s the thought of success.”
George Ranch sophomore Sophia Nguyen.VYPE Media
Other Greater Houston area runners in Class 6A and Class 5A to keep an eye on this cross country season:
>> Carter Gordy, Lake Creek, sr.: Finished 12th at the Class 5A state meet last year with a time of 15:33.7.
>> Pablo Lesarri, The Woodlands, sr.: Finished 15th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 15:33.2.
>> Adrian Hahn Vadstein, Cinco Ranch, sr.: Finished 19th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 15:39.7
>> Colby Hornbeck, The Woodlands College Park, sr.: Finished 25th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 15:50.5.
>> Reese Vannerson, Strake Jesuit, sr.: Finished 26that the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 15:50.6.
>> Kathryn Koonts, Klein, jr.: Finished 5th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 17:46.5.
>> Penelope Gracey, The Woodlands, jr.: Finished 9th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 18:07.1.
>> Felicity Hamilton, Klein Cain, jr.: Finished 11th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 18:11.0.
>> Maddy Hunter, Katy, jr.: Finished 24th at the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 18:31.2.
>> Lydia Butler, Klein Oak, soph.: Finished 25that the Class 6A state meet last year with a time of 18:32.1.