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HOUSTON - Following last year's Region II-6A Meet, Klein Oak coach Aaron Shock and runners Gabrielle Hoots and Elizabeth Winkler sat down for dinner with the other Klein ISD program's they had caravanned with.
It was at that dinner a year ago, Shock asked Hoots and Winkler a pointed question.
"We just sat there at that dinner and talked about what are the goals for 2021?," Shock said. "What do you all want for your upcoming year?"
The trio came up with a plan and with it Hoots and Winkler walked the halls of Klein Oak and recruited other girls to come run with them and then helped along a pair of freshmen during the summer, who would make the squad.
"It was a 365-day process," Shock said.
That process paid off on Monday at the 2021 Region II Cross Country Championships.
Led by Hoots, who continued her phenomenal senior season and won the Region II Championship with a time of 17:58.40, Klein Oak finished second overall as a team - only behind The Woodlands - with an average time of 19:05.65 on the course.
Gathered in a group, Klein Oak assistant cross country and head girls track coach Brittany Roper walked up to the team to break some news. Holding out a phone with the results on it, Hoots was the first to realize what they had done - advanced to the UIL State Cross Country meet as a team.
The celebration was on.
"We really went all out," Shock, who was also pictured with the team leaping for joy on the edge of a lake, said. "The first goal was a District Championship and qualify for Region as a team, because we came up short a year ago. The next-level goal was to qualify for State as a team was what we were shooting for.
"For them to finish second and for all of them to run the race they really needed to have, it's just exciting for me to see their efforts pay off. They don't stop. It's an amazing group of young ladies."
What are you doing November 6th? #StateBound #Oakem pic.twitter.com/uvIlHHRxQi— Klein Oak Track & Cross Country (@KO_Track_CC) October 25, 2021
Hoots all season has been the leading force for this Klein Oak group.
The senior has made it to the Region Cross Country Championships every year of her high school career. As a freshman, she finished 9th overall at District and 44th at Region. In 2019, as a sophomore, Hoots finished third overall at the Region II Championships and advanced to state. As a junior, she won her first district championship, once again took third at the Regional Championships and moved on to state, where she took 28th overall.
This season, Hoots won the District 15-6A Championship, took second overall at the Nike South Invitational and then - for the first time in her career - the Region II Championship with a time of 17:58.40 - over 18 seconds ahead of Kathryn Koonts of Klein.
"That was personal for me," Shock said. "She's the one who has been the engine behind this since I came in last year ... She has always had that talent but never had that supporting cast. So, she has worked and led by example, how to do things right in the classroom, at practice, on the course in the race.
"It's personal for her. To see that reward for her and run a great race against great competition. Just phenomenal."
Behind Hoots was Lydia Butler (18:38.90) taking 9th overall, followed by Elizabeth Winkler (18:40.0) in 10th place. Alaina Nugier (19:53.16) came in 37th overall, followed by Jazmin McBride (20:17.79) in 48th. Other finishers for Klein Oak included Danielle Strebel (20:45.85 - 60th) and Andrea Witzke (22:25.56 - 120th).
Getting this program back to the UIL State Cross Country meet is big for the Klein Oak community.
In 1990, Klein Oak women won the state championship as a team. During the pandemic, Shock utilized Zoom to connect his current team with that squad to take notes from their experiences.
"That experience and understanding that it is more about your school, the team and the people that come before you and that there's a link there," Shock said. "It really brought it to life for our girls."
The @KleinOak Girls Cross Country team was “leaping" for joy after advancing to the state meet! They even let me TRY to jump with them 😀. I'm so proud of these student-athletes! @KO_Track_CC pic.twitter.com/HaokkB0ZV4— Thomas Hensley (@thomashensley) October 25, 2021
In a way, Klein Oak "shocked" the cross country world on Monday, after not even getting their team to the Regional Championships last season after a fourth-place finish at district.
So, heading into this season Shock said "those that knew knew and those that didn't didn't" on how good this Klein Oak team could be in 2021.
Well, now they know.
"We've talked about waking people up and letting them know what we're all about here," Shock said. "Letting them know that Klein Oak is here and this is the beginning of a change here and we're going to continue on after these girls are gone. Just have that legacy starting something now where you come back in five to 10 years and it's still continuing on."
Klein Oak Cross Country
The Klein Oak Panthers' Cross Country teams are both coming off third-place finishes in the district meet a year ago. On the girls' side, the Lady Panthers return some elite talent in Gabbie Hoots, Elizabeth Winkler and Danielle Strebel. The boys will be paced by Jack Boyd and Derek Waite. Can they knock off Klein High as the top team?
Carter Womble, Diego Arriaga, Jack Boyd and Derek Waite
Valerie Rodriguez, Gabbie Hoots, Elizabeth "Lizzie" Winkler and Alaina Nugier