COLLEGE CROSS COUNTRY: Pair of Odessa College runners signing to lace up for UTPB

A pair of Wranglers are running down another dream.

Odessa College cross country runners Karen Torres and Abraham Moralez signed letters of intent Wednesday to continue their careers at the four-year level across town at UTPB.

Wednesday marked the opening of the NCAA’s signing period for some sports like cross country — and for Torres and Moralez, it marked the culmination of their hard work through one stage of their respective careers, and the beginning of another opportunity.

“It’s just an amazing feeling,” Morales said of putting pen to paper at a signing celebration Wednesday in the OC Sports Center.

“It’s been my goal,” Torres said.

Both runners took different paths to get to Odessa College, but after Wednesday, they’re both on the same route to suiting up for the Falcons.

“It’s exciting,” Odessa College head cross country coach Cate Walsh said. “It’s a very proud moment.”

Torres came to Odessa College after a successful high school career at Andrews. She was a top runner in each of the past two seasons for the Lady Wranglers team, only narrowly missing the cut for the NJCAA’s national meet back in October. She finished 21st at the NJCAA Region V meet then, traversing the 5k run in 21:58.37.

Moralez walked on for the Wranglers initially, but ultimately earned a scholarship in the program. He finished the men’s 8k at the Region V meet in 28:53.82 last fall.

Now, both will be able to continue running and continue to cut those times with their careers carrying on at UTPB.

“I just felt really honored and blessed to be able to continue my running, because that’s all I’ve been dedicated to,” Torres said.

Walsh said she feels Torres has been on the verge of major success with her ability, and she thinks she’ll be able to capitalize on that potential and reach new levels of success over at UTPB.

“Karen came in as probably one of my strongest girls her freshman year, and then, sophomore year, even more so,” Walsh said. “She just really stepped up and improved her times every single week.

“She’s always just kind of been right there and I really think going on next year, she’s going to be able to go to the next level really easily.”

Moralez ran cross country in high school at Lamesa, but a collegiate career wasn’t on his mind when he moved to stay with his sister in Odessa and first enrolled at Odessa College.

But one day he reached out to Walsh about walking on with the Wranglers — and since then has run down a successful collegiate career and an opportunity to continue it at a four-year school.

“It’s something I never thought I could do, but through perseverance and dedication you can do anything,” he said of signing.

“I emailed coach one day and told her ‘I want to keep running.’ So she let me continue to do that,” he added. “At first I started off without a scholarship, but she saw how I progressed. As soon as the season was over, I got everything I needed because of the work that I put in to get it.”

Walsh noted that Moralez has been a model student-athlete for the Wranglers men’s team, winning an award for his academic achievement from the NJCAA Cross Country Coaches Association.

“He’s been improving his times in cross country and track. But more so, I’ve been proud of him as far as his grades and academics go,” Walsh said.

Walsh agreed that Moralez’s story is one that she’d be able to point to in the future — detailing how it’s possible to move from junior college walk-on to signing at the four-year level.

“It’s always kind of a nice little surprise when it happens, when a walk-on can come and stand out like that,” she said. “He’s kind of just a really quiet, but natural leader. He leads by example. I never have to worry about him not doing his job or not excelling. He’s just such a hard worker.”

Now, Torres and Moralez both feel they’ve found the right fit to continue doing what they love to do at UTPB.

“I like how they’re really focused on athletes,” Torres said of the Falcons program. “It’s all about getting your education and, of course, what you’re there for: your running.”

Torres and Moralez marked the fourth and fifth runners from Odessa College’s cross country programs to sign on with UTPB’s programs in the last two years.

Three Odessa College runners signed with the Falcons cross country teams last spring.

“It’s exciting,” Walsh said of the bridge building between the schools. “As their program is growing, so is ours.

“We go over there to train, and we use their grass and all the land that they have, and they come over here and use our track. It’s just a nice, healthy little competitive relationship that I hope continues.”