After the excitement in week two, it finally feels like we are in the midst of a budding cross country season. The week opened up on Tuesday with the Magazine Invitational, and I've been unable to find access to any results from that meet.
On Thursday, the Mountain Home boys team started where they left the 2019 season by winning the Carthage Invitational in Missouri. On a challenging course, they averaged 17:15 with a 1:17 1-5 split to take down two top-5 4A Missouri team in Webb City and Carthage with 28 points. Pre-season top 10 Whit Lawrence ran 16:40 to run away with the win. Their girls finished 2nd with a 22:26 average but a massive 3:08 split. 5A defending champion Marcie Cudworth opened her season cruising to a win in 20:39.
The action heated up on Saturday, as nearly every team hoping to contend for a state title knocked the rust off and raced. Arguably the premier meet of the weekend; the Little Rock classic proved to live up to the hype. Followers of Arkansas cross country debated all week about who would win the star-studded boys individual race. In an unprecedented move, the organizers of the meet sent runners off in waves of three, with only seconds separating each wave. Thankfully, they took the time to seed the top 20 of both races to ensure a quality race. John Sutton of Conway managed to hang on to Connor Jackson's of Manila's shoulder for the first 2 miles, but the hills proved too challenging as Jackson went on to win in 16:25. He managed to put the 20-second margin of victory on Sutton in the final mile. The Lake Hamilton duo of Zeke McCain and William Swecker finished 3-4, and Grayson Young of Cabot rounded out the top 5. Lake Hamilton boys dominated the team title with 45 points over Rogers Heritage's 79 points. In an odd move, Rogers Heritage ran a split team as their #4 runner raced at Elkins on the same morning. On the girls' side, Lake Hamilton Sophomore Olivia Pielemeier defeated a much improved Mary Beth Bailey form Jonesboro in a 5A class battle 20:25-20:45. Pielemeier moved up to high school late last October and got better every race to finish the 2nd place at the All-Star meet. Emma Selph rounded up the 5A sweep, finishing 3rd in 20:56. Speaking of sweeps, Lake Hamilton got the broom out to win their second team title of the morning by narrowly defeating Cabot 82-92. Their 4:39 1-5 split will need to improve for them to be a real contender to win a team championship in November, but one can only wonder if Coach Smith has another scrappy freshman in the lineup he's holding back.
On the same Saturday morning over in Elkins, times were lightning fast. Reuben Reina won another NWA challenge by running the fastest time of the year in 15:29. Fayetteville's Jack Williams ran a season-best time of 15:44 to finish second place. The Fayetteville trio of Williams, Jackson Stobaugh, and Hudson Betts finished 2-3-4 to put 3 in front of Har-ber's standout sophomore Dawson Welch, which would lock up the team title for them. Fayetteville went 2-3-4-7-12 while Har-Ber went 5-6-10-11-13. Mia Loafman won her 2nd race in as many weeks in a PR of 19:05, while newcomer from Har-ber Abby Eclan continued her exceptional rookie season by finishing 2nd in a 1-minute PR, running 19:24. Fayetteville duo of Mary Margaret Harris and Ryann Coan finished 3-4, as Coan outkicked Esperanza Trejo from Springdale, who rounded out the top 5. Fayetteville girls came away with their second win in a row and a solid 20:29 team average. Still, though it wouldn't have mattered, it's worth mentioning that Rogers didn't run Ali Nachtigal, who was the easy pre-season favorite to be the top overall individual in the state this year. In the 4A-5A division, Siloam Springs put on a show sweeping the team titles and the individual titles.
Michael Capehart ran the fastest 5A time of the year, putting himself on top of the leaderboard with a 16:35 PR. Siloam Springs girls crushed a good Pea Ridge team 30-51 with a respectable 22:11 average and the smallest split in the class of 1:38. My first reaction upon looking at the results of the Elkins meet was, "holy cow, that's a fast course." However, when I compared last year's race data, it appeared to be roughly 25 seconds slower than the state course on the boys' side, and nearly 45 seconds slower on average on the girls' side. Upon further examination, Strava data from competitors showed the course was true to distance at 3.1+ miles.
While most of NWA went to Elkins, a few teams elected to drive south to the Fort Smith Invitational. Among them was Bentonville High School, who swept the team titles in commanding fashion. On the boys' side, the Mayberry brothers finished 1-2 in 16:59 & 17:06, respectively. Bentonville boys finished 1-2-4-5-8 in their season opener. Sophomore Noah Embrey from Greenwood split up their 2 & 3 by finishing 3rd in a respectable 17:14.Emily Robinson won the girls' side running 20 minutes flat, followed by teammates Madison Galindo and Kayla Hurley.Last year's 5A runner up, Macie Cash, finished 4th in 20:42 to open up her season. Despite the mud on the course, Bentonville girls shined, finishing 1-2-3-5-6-7-8-9, making the meet look like an intra-squad scrimmage if it wasn't for Cash. A friend on the course called me directly after the meet to tell me that though the times will look slow, the course was comparable to hog slop and don't discount the performances. With a 48-second boys' split and a 52-second girls' split, Bentonville showed they hope to stay on the top of the 6A class for another year, but it won't be easy. Coach Powers and Coach Ramaker have a history of having their kids ready when it matters the most.
When Bentonville chose to drive south, Bentonville West went north to race at the highly competitive Ray-Pec Invitational. Their boys finished 6th place with a 17:25 average, led by senior Keegan Terrell who finished 13th in 16:53.Their girls finished 14th, led by junior McKenna Terrell who finished 35th in 21:11.
The timing system at the Warrior Invitational failed, so we have no clue what to make of the results. The takeaways we can make are the Lakeside teams have improved for another year, as their boys nearly had a perfect score, finishing 1-2-3-4-6, and their girls look to compete for a win, finishing 1-2-6-7-8. Lakeside's Dylan Dew had the individual win in his first high school cross country race. Their typical bellcow, Caleb Wrublesky, finished behind Dew. Once again, we don't know what this means without official times. Whitley Terry of Lakeside won the girls' individual race. At face value, Coach Jeff Haynes has nearly completed a full transformation of Lakeside's cross country program.
Performance of the Week:
Reuben Reina running 15:29 to win Elkins. The question stands to be answered of who can challenge him as the overall top male runner in the state.
Olivia Pielemeier's win at LRXC.
Surprises of the Week:
Connor Jackson has won 41 races in his career. That's right, 41. So to say his win at LRXC is surprising may not be fair. The surprise is that he looks in form to provide 3A showdown against Luke Walling as they both hope to end their stellar careers a champion.
Bentonville Girls: Wow are they deep! Almost any team in the state would love to have their SECOND 5 girls. Rogers and Fayetteville are just as strong up top and there will be another exciting 7A race in November.
Sophomore Noah Embry from Greenwood: This 10th grader just opened up his season directly behind two very good runners in the Mayberry brothers from Bentonville, and split up a solid Bentonville top 5.