It's been six months since we've seen any racing in Arkansas, and in what feels like the ending of a perpetual groundhog day, cross country season is finally here! Teams in Northwest Arkansas put their practice meets behind them and came together to race in the Shiloh Saints Invitational, hosted by Shiloh Christian High School. First, we need to put our hands together for the Shiloh Christian coaching staff and administration for not taking the easy way out and finding a way to safely host a cross country meet in the time of COVID-19. Second, a round of applause goes out to the athletes and coaches for making masks and social distancing a priority. Unfortunately, I'm afraid that necessary precautions are the only way fans will enjoy a cross country season as meets are being canceled left and right.
The meet lineup was full of NWA firepower, and it didn't disappoint, as the boys' team race featured 6 teams in the top 20 returning teams and 9 of the top 20 individual racers. The girls' race was top-heavy, with 3 of the top 8 returning teams, and 6 of the top 10 individuals.
Reuben Reina Jr., who had the fastest time ran in the state last season but saw his sidelined early to injury, ran away with the individual win, running 16:10 to gap 2nd place by 10 seconds. Jack Williams of Fayetteville and Luke Walling of Cave City challenged Reina for the win, but couldn't handle the pace and finished 2nd and 3rd in 16:20 and 16:24, respectively. Though all the classes ran together, Walling's results will be reflected as a win in the 1A-4A category. Standout sophomore, Dawson Welch of Har-ber, finished a very respectable 4th place to start the year. Welch, who dominated the 2018 Chile Pepper Festival Jr. High Race as an 8th grader and ran 4:34 indoors for 1600m as a freshman, will be fun to follow as his career matures. Jackson Stobaugh, who had a prestigious Jr High career similar to Welch's, finished 5th place in 16:35, only 16 seconds off his PR from last season.
The team title race was the best story of the meet, as Har-ber edged out Fayetteville by a 1 runner differential, 43-45. A young Har-ber team improved all season last year to surprise some people at the state meet without their #1 in Reina, but they are another year older this year and will not be surprising anyone. A much-improved Rogers Heritage team finished 3rd place, and though their team average was 25 seconds behind 2nd place, their 53-second 1-5 split was the smallest in the race and shows they are a team to be taken seriously this fall.
Mia Loafman from Rogers was the class of the field after completely dominating the
girls' race. Mia ran 19:18 and finished 33 seconds ahead of Mary Margaret
Harris from Fayetteville in 2nd place. Mia's 5:15 1600m time as a freshman
supports that this race was no fluke, and she will be a surprise threat to win
the 6A individual girls title after finishing 13th last year. A Fayetteville
girl also took the 3rd spot when Carson Wasemiller passed the line 5 seconds
behind her teammate Harris in 19:56. Defending 6A state champion Ali Nachtigal
had a rough start to her season, but it's a sign of how well respected she is when
4th place against exceptional talent is considered rough. Don't expect her to
run in the 20 minutes for 5k much this season.
Abby Eclan from Harber rounded out the top 5 running 20:26 in her cross country debut. There aren't many people who can say they finished top 5 in their first cross country race. Fayetteville girls ran away with the team title finishing 32-42 against Rogers. Surprisingly, Rogers actually had a 1 second less team average of 20:49 to Fayetteville's 20:50, but a 2:52 1-5 split to Fayetteville's 1:41. Harber finished 3rd place with 63 points, while Siloam Springs girls were a distant 4th place with 137 points. Siloam Springs girls have had continual success in the past 5 years in the 5A class and were the highest finishing 5A team at the meet.
The 1A-4A division represented the arrival of Pea Ridge cross country, who won both the boys and girls races. The Pea Ridge boys team defeated the defending 3A state champions of West Fork High School 30-66. Farmington, who finished 5th in last year's 4A state championship, was 3rd. In no surprise to anyone who has been following Arkansas cross country the past two years, Luke Walling looks in form to defend his 3A individual state championship.
Last season Walling won 7 of 11 races he ran in. On the girls' side, Pea Ridge continued their winning day by defeating back to back 4A state champions Harrison, who hope to three-peat this year. This performance jumped them to number 13 in the top-20 power rankings, up from 22nd if you count all times from returning runners at the state meet. West Fork girls put 2 in the top 3, led by 1A-4A winner Joyce Ferguson who finished 2nd in last years 3A state championship, but a 5:33 1-5 split was too challenging to overcome.
Performance of the Week:
Mia Loafman running 19:18 to win by 33 seconds against 4 of the top 7 girls in the Power 20.
Surprises of the Week:
-Pea Ridge Cross Country Program. It appears as if Pea Ridge's success on the track the past couple years is finally carrying over to the cross country course.
-Harber Boys. Coach Crommett is a well-respected name throughout the state of Arkansas for his success at Caddo Hills. It was only a matter of time until he put together the pieces at Harber to compete for a championship in the 6A classification.
9/8 Magazine Invitational
9/12 Elkins Invitational
9/12 Fort Smith Invitational
9/12 Little Rock Classic
9/12 Warrior Invitational