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Burnet’s Bennett wins the one state title that eluded him

CAPTION: The Burnet athletes competing at the 2023 Class 4A state track and field championships include Asah Roy (left), Brady Rygaard, Brayden Hill, Victor Aviles and Hudson Bennett. Courtesy photo

Burnet High School senior runner Hudson Bennett completed his collection of state championships when he won the Class 4A 1,600-meter final May 11.

The Bulldog ran won the race in 4 minutes and 19.37 seconds, beating defending state champion Carlo Martinez of Gatesville, who earned silver by finishing in 4:19.56.

The two know each other well thanks to competing against one another at area, regionals and at state in track and field and in cross country.

In 2022, Martinez was the state runner-up in the Class 4A cross country championships behind another familiar runner — Angel Sanchez of Fort Worth Diamond Hill-Jarvis. Bennett finished third.

“It feels so much better than the rest,” Bennett said of winning the gold medal in the mile. “It was nothing I’ve ever experienced.”

“He’s done it all,” said Burnet middle-distance running coach Kristi Jones a day after the state meet. “I don’t think he has anything left to prove. He’s given his all.”

To fully appreciate Bennett’s moment, people will have to be reminded of a very trying spring.

The Bulldog dislocated and fractured a knee cap that required surgery, an injury he suffered while playing basketball for the high school varsity.

“I hit hard on the court,” he said. “I fell wrong on it. I was playing defense, and I stepped on someone’s foot. I fell on my knee wrong.”

At that time, most believed Bennett would only wear the Kelly green as a spectator and fan and that he ran his final race at the Class 4A cross country championship in November.

But not Bennett. As a runner who spends part of his summer doing altitude training with other gifted athletes, he was determined to get back to the starting line. He was released at the end of January with only days before the start of the 2023 track season.

“He’s made a lot of sacrifices over the years to be where he’s at,” Jones said. “He chose to train over social events multiple times. He’s put training above social aspects when most teenagers wouldn’t do that.”

And even he could see the differences between his two legs. One was muscular — the picture of a championship runner’s leg; the other was two times smaller and needed to get back into race shape.

Meanwhile, the Burnet middle-distance runners simply weren’t the same without Bennett. Jones recalled those practices early in the semester, noting the distance runners carried on but weren’t shy about expressing how much they missed their teammate.

Bennett began running in March knowing full well that he only had weeks to be in race shape if wanted to be at his best for the District 24-4A meet April 12-13.

“It was so much time and effort,” he said. “I can’t discuss here how much time and effort it took. It took a long time for me to get my legs looking the same. There was never an easy moment when I could relax. It was never like that.”

His return to practices ignited his teammates, Jones added.

“It sparked a lot of joy and fire,” she said. “It motivated them all. If he could come back after that, we can do anything.”

His first track and field meet back was the Bulldog Relays March 23 where he finished second in the 3,200 meters, the event he won state titles in 2021 and 2022.

From there he slowly began to add in the 1,600 meters and before fans knew it, the time had come for the district meet.

Bennett and the Bulldogs arrived to Marble Falls’ Mustang Stadium and Leonel Manzano Track, the same high school that produced the greatest middle-distance runner in Burnet County history. It didn’t take long for the light gray track to be turned to Kelly green as the Bulldogs took top honors in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 meters to pace Burnet to a team runner-up finish.

Sophomore teammate Victor Aviles won all three gold medals in those races, while Bennett took silver in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters. And no teammate was happier for Aviles than Bennett, who correctly predicted that the sophomore would win the 800-meter state championship as the second day of the district meet was wrapping up.

While Aviles kept adding gold medals at the area and regional meets in the 800, Bennett won the regional championship in the 1,600 meters and needed the wild card in the 3,200 meters to compete at the state meet. The wild card goes to the fastest bronze medalist among the the four finishers in each regional race.

That brought a dilemma for Bennett. Should he run both races at the state meet? Or go all in on one?

Jones recalled Bennett asking for her opinion during the two weeks between the regional and state meet.

“All I told him was to make a decision he’ll be happy with in five years,” she said.

That decision was to scratch the 3,200 meters and concentrate fully on the 1,600 meters.

“I’ve won the 3,200 meters before,” he said. “I think it’s a new experience to win the mile. It feels pretty good. That injury put me behind. A state championship is pretty satisfying.”

While Bennett’s name will be among the greatest in the county for the championships, his influence will remain. Aviles and freshman Asah Roy, who competed in the girls 1,600 meters at the state meet, are taking the baton from Bennett. They and several other runners are determined to continue to keep Burnet middle distance running on the state map, competing among the best.

“They’ll be here hours before the sun rises to put in the work,” said Jones, who will be the head coach of the cross country program beginning in the 2023-24 school year. “Asah is just as determined as the rest.”

That’s where Bennett’s legacy continues, though few would know it by how he carries himself, she said.

“He’s a very humble and determined individual,” Jones said. “He’s willing to outwork people, and he’s willing to do what’s necessary to be great. There’s not a day that goes by that he doesn’t think about what he needs to do to be ready for the next level or for that personal record. Hudson made the comeback of the year. That was Victor’s first experience on that stage. It was Hudson’s last moment. I was full of joy.”

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