"You know what, I did what I had to do. My plan didn't change. I still won and I'm still really happy about that." -- Abeyta on winning the Southlake Carroll Invitational
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It's no surprise Michael Abeyta has his eyes laser-focused on a new mission in 2019, that he's doing every single little thing he can muster in the weeks leading through the cross country season.
He knows the little things matter.
And Abeyta knows what underwhelming feels like. Last year wasn't thrilling for the El Paso Hanks High School senior. After he finished fifth at the UIL Class 5A Cross Country Championships, there were no visits to Foot Locker or Nike Cross Nationals Regionals.
The following outdoor season produced a few medals in the 800 and 1,600 meter runs, though there were no state championships and no personal records at those distances, his specialities.
Abeyta wants more this fall.
"Not just to prove to everyone here, but more to myself," he said after winning the Southlake Carroll Invitational on Saturday at Bob Jones Park in Southlake, in a career best speed rating of 187. "I didn't have a really great junior year. This is the year to bounce back. I'm ready. I'm really ready for state, regionals and everything coming my way ."
Abeyta may have noticed how Foot Locker Nationals has been won by an upstart in each of the past two seasons. And he also likely noted how the Texas State Class 5A Championships have run through Aledo senior Graydon Morris -- the Texas harrier has won the past two state titles.
Abeyta, who was runner-up at state in 2017, said he was ready to race Morris on Saturday. But when he didn't show up, it didn't matter.
"I was expecting Graydon Morris and Jarrett Kirk to show up," said Abeyta, who took the lead out and battled in the final meters with Austin San Juan Diego's Abraham Avila-Martinez, "but you know what, I did what I had to do. My plan didn't change. I still won and I'm still really happy about that."
Abeyta's been impressive through his first two races so far. His finish on Saturday was over a minute faster than his third-place performance last year -- though, to be fair, last year's course was soaked and a mud pit. But his debut at the El Paso Canutillo Invitational also came a week earlier than he's ever raced in a season.
Perhaps after racing just six times in 2018, Abeyta is focused on being better tuned for the bigger moments of the fall. He says those little things have been adding up, with his fitness level in a very good place right now.
"Honestly, I'm in pretty good shape right now," he said. "I have to stay focused, stay motivated and stay disciplined with everything I have to do. And if I have those things. Keep working hard every day, in the morning, at night, at practice, at school. Every day. Can't miss a day."
Abeyta knows he's not the only one working hard, either. He's headed back to where he set his PR last year, at The Desert Twilight Invitational at Casa Grande, Arizona, on September 27. It's where he picked up the second highest speed rating of his career -- 186 -- while also finishing fourth beside talents like Cole Sprout, Cruz Culpepper, Kashon Harrison, Ares Reading and Leo Daschbach.
Not only will that race make him better, but it will also put him in company that should also have the same possible goals for the fall.
"My goal is advance to national meet," he said. "I want to win that meet and also win Foot Locker Nationals. That would be a great end to my cross country senior year."
It's still early, but Abeyta has stayed true to that early promise. And he remains committed on his purpose: Never letting the little things slip.
"I get up in the morning, really early. Two or three hours before I have to go to school," he said. "I get up and do something extra. Those extra things make you the best."