WEEK 4 RECAP
It's amazing that our 4th week of the season has ended, and we are on the cusp of the halfway point. Right now, the only assumptions that we can make are that we know what we don't know.
As expected, COVID has provided less of a challenge in organizing races and more of a challenge to schools trying to get a complete team to the line. If you study results from across the state this week, rosters have as many holes as a slice of swiss cheese. I spoke to an anonymous coach for a competitive team this week who had a key runner quarantined for two weeks due to the close proximity of a student listed in contact tracing as exposed to the virus. Coaches across the state harbor anxiety of the damage that contact tracing could potentially have to their title chances in November. Many coaches are exploring school from home options for a short period if their school doesn't already provide that alternative. Consider that my caveat before we look at the week's results. I won't mention rosters missing kids this week because it isn't fair to the kids who are already struggling with this anomaly. That being said, another week of cross country has culminated in some outstanding performances. Let us dive in!
The racing week began on Tuesday with two north Arkansas races. Preston Wright from Highland won the High School Boys division of the Salem Invitational in a time of 19:29, besting sophomore Dominic Sellars from Flippin High School by 16 seconds. The win is Preston's first cross country or track race on the Milesplit records, which only makes you wonder how much room he has to improve in possibly garnering an All-State honor for the 4A class at the end of the season. Izard County Consolidated won by a narrow margin of 43-46 over Flippin High School. The girls race proved the be the feature race, as last week's runner of the week Abbey Linville of Rural Special outkicked Katelyn Provence of Cedar Ridge High School 19:45.45 to 19:45.99. Provence, who was also running her first cross country race ever, stamped her name at the top of the 3A leaderboard with her performance in an already highly competitive individual title race in which all of the top 5 girls from last year's state meet have returned. Tuckerman was the only school that fielded a full girls squad at the meet, therefore winning the team title by default.
The University of Ozarks Invitational
The University of Ozarks Invitational was also hosted on Tuesday, where Rogers High School must have found the end of the rainbow because they took all the gold, winning both individual and team races. Aries Burasco won the first cross country race of his career, besting Isaac Teague from Fort Smith Southside 17:17 to 17:25. Matthew Dunsworth from Clarksville, who would also race in Mansfield later the week, finished 3rd as he looks to be the top underclassman in the 4A boys class. William Sakalares and Joshua Zuniga from Rogers rounded out the top 5, helping Rogers defeat a Har-ber's B squad 23-105. West Fork, the defending 3A state champions, finished 4th with a 19:58 average. In another landslide victory, Mia Loafman won her 3rd race in a row in 19:20 by a margin of 29 seconds over teammate Hailey Day. Ava Sawyer of Har-ber ran the 2nd fastest time of all the freshmen in the state to finish 3rd. 4A star Chloe Weathers was 4th, and Maggie Gregory of Pottsville ran a 26 second PR to round out the top 5. Rogers girls defeated Har-ber girls 39-49 in one of the more competitive team races of the weekend. A less obvious story from the meet was the battle of 1A-2A schools Quitman and Kingston. Last year Kingston girls only ran 2 early-season meets, but last week they lost narrowly to their class' defending state champions in Quitman girls, with a slower average (23:54 to 23:34) but a smaller split (3:15 to 3:55). These two teams have the potential to be a fun rivalry story come November.
Bomber Invitational 1
Moving forward to Thursday, Mountain Home hosted their first of 2 meets this season. Jessieville made the 4-hour drive north to sweep the individual titles. Noah Zetts won the boys race in 18:40 on an infamously difficult course (who remembers state 2009?) Teammate Lawson Wideman was second, followed by freshman Aidan Sanders of Mountain Home, Darren Blount of Mountain Home, and Travis Gentry of West Side Greers Ferry.
Mountain Home's JV boys won the race with an average of 20:41 over West Side Greers Ferry. Juliah Rodgers of Jessieville won her first race of the season in a PR time of 20:19 as she looks to repeat her state title, while Haley Gentry of West Side Greers Ferry was 2nd. Ashley Billingsley of Izard Country Consolidated, Chaelanne Vickers of Mountain View, and McKenzie Clark from Mountain Home rounded out the top 5. Mountain Home JV girls bested West Side Greers Ferry 31-56 for the team title.
No one would argue that the weekend's premier races were held on Saturday, and no meet has been more anticipated this year than the Cyclone Invitational in Russellville. The race location was changed from last year, going back to Old Post Park, and it appears that the race distance was moved back to 5k from last year's 3-mile distance. The course at Old Post Park has had fast years and slow years, but way more slow than fast. The boy's race featured three runners who had run in the 15 minutes for 5k, and the entries listed 21 under 17-minute performances. It also featured five teams ranked in the top 10. Fayetteville senior Jack Williams was the class of the field, running 16:04 to win by 10 seconds. Conway delivered their all too familiar 1-2 punch of John Sutton and Cade Swindle, to take the last two medal spots in 16:14 and 16:20. Jackson Stobaugh of Fayetteville was 4th in 16:27. Zeke McCain of Lake Hamilton took the five spot in 16:32. With runners missing from many teams, Milesplit ranked #1 Fayetteville defeated #4 Lake Hamilton 73-119. Their 1-5 splits were nearly identical, but Fayetteville had the faster team average at 17:05. #3 ranked Har-ber finished 3rd place just 5 points behind Lake Hamilton with 124. Episcopal Collegiate was the top "small school" in the race, finishing 11th place. They look to improve on last year's 3A runner-up team finish. The girls' race had 6 girls seeded under 20 minutes and 3 top-10 teams. Mary Margaret Harris won her first race of the season, defeating Greenwood star and 5A staple Macie Cash. In doing so, Harris made a statement for consideration for the 6A individual title, while Cash did the same for 5A. Exceptional sophomore Carson Wasemiller from Fayetteville was 3rd place in 20:15, Reese McMillan from Valley View was 4th, and Emma Selph from Benton rounded out the top 5. Fayetteville girls wreaked havoc on other girls teams, winning the race with minuscule 38 points. Valley View was second place, making me look foolish for not proposing them for consideration in the state's top 10 rankings. As much attention as I have given that squad this year, they proved this weekend in Russellville that they are one of the state's premier girl's teams.
Today's Bank Mansfield Invitational
For a tiny Arkansas town, Mansfield put on a heck of a cross country meet, pulling talent from different state locations. On the boys' side, Keegan Terrell of Bentonville West became the first person to beat Lakeside's Dylan Dew this year, running 16:26 to Dew's 16:41, which represents a big PR for Dew. Avery Francis from Bentonville West would also run a PR, finishing 3rd in 17:04. Lakeside's Joseph Bariola would become the fastest 9th grader in the state for a few hours, running 17:05 to finish 4th place, while Isaac Teague from Southside would get two mentions in 1 week, finishing 5th. Bentonville West boys won the team title 27-61 over Hot Springs Lakeside, who has been on a tear in their first four weeks. Justice Neufield of Acorn would win the small school division by 1:43, running 17:07. On the girls' side, freshman Whitley Terry from Lakeside will stay undefeated, beating McKenna Terrell 20:29-20:44. I want to know what Lakeside's freshman secret is. Could they be soaking after workouts in the legendary hot springs? Laynie White from Vilonia, Molly Fortin from Lakeside, and Heidi Marsh from Southside rounded out the top 5 in that order. Bentonville West and Lakeside would have exactly the same team average of 21:51, but B-West's 1:36 split to Lakeside's 1:59 would be just enough to allow them the victory by one point 35-36. Joyce Ferguson of West Fork won the small school division in 20:43. West Fork would win both of the small school team titles.
Berryville Bobcat Back 40
Milesplit's Jim Yurwitz provided the timing over in Berryville, as more NWA teams gathered to race. Bentonville boys swept the top 4 spots on the large school individual race, as Hunter Hill took the gold medal in 17:20. Daniel Goff of Springdale was the only runner to split up Bentonville's 5, which also was comprised of Mason Simpson, Logen Dildy, Dominic Demania, and Cameron Dalton. With what appears to be a B-team, Bentonville took the team title over Springdale 16-44. Michael Capehart won the 4A-5A division in 17:05, but Jacob Tyburski taking the overall win AND the small division was the story of the meet. Tyburski's time of 16:24 was nearly a 1 minute PR. If Haas Hall can improve on their 3:40 split, they will probably go into November as part of the discussion to win the 1A-2A class, but they barely defeated in-class rival, Kingston. The girls' race was won by Quincy Efurd of Siloam Springs in 20:23, while Springdale's Esperanza Trejo won the 6A division in 20:48, and Aubery Henderson of Jasper brought rejuvenation to a once-dominant program by winning the 1A-3A division. Pea Ridge girls continued their 2020 for the books by winning the overall title en-route to winning their class, but Siloam Springs girls put up a fight with a 3-second better team average and finished 5 points behind the Pea Ridge powerhouse.
Frank Horton Invitational
The week's racing closed out with some of the state's top runners competing under the lights at the Frank Horton Invitational in Memphis, TN, which is known as one of the premier Tennessee meets. The race featured the #1 & #4 ranked Tennessee boys teams, and the #1,2, and 3 individuals.The girls race featured the #1 Tennessee team and 3 of the top 6 individuals. Connor Jackson of Manila joined Mountain Home in the feature races. Whit Lawrence from Mountain Home was Arkansas top finisher in 4th place running 15:51, with Jackson hot on his heels in 7th place running 16:01. Jackson and Lawrence went through the first mile split with the lead pack in 4:51, and they paid for it dearly in the second half. Andrew Westphal from Mountain Home ran 16:17 to round out the top 10. Freshman Hendrix Hughes from Mountain Home ran 16:51, to cap off a big day for Arkansas 9th graders. The Mountain Home boys finished 2nd place behind the #1 ranked overall team in the state of Tennessee in Bartlett CC Club, with 89 points to Bartlett's 72, and averaging 16:45 in the process. Marcie Cudworth was the top girls' finisher from Arkansas, running 19:01 to finish 11th place in a deep field. Mountain Home's girls' team finished 5th place overall with a 21:01 average.
Performance of the Week:
-Jack Williams running 16:01 to defeat a loaded field at the Cyclone Invitational.
-Marcie Cudworth's state leading time of 19:01 under the lights at Frank Horton.
Surprises and Observations:
-The state's smaller classes are improving. I'll admit, I'm a sucker for small cross country teams and it stems all the way back to watching the Ernie Yeager coached Jasper Boys teams of the mid-2000's. If you don't know the story, it's fascinating.Each of these small teams faces a special set of circumstances, and many of the runners use cross country as a pre-season for basketball. However, it's just as exciting to me to see two overlooked girls battle it out to the line in rural Salem, AR, or see Haas Hall's Tyburski dominate larger school competition as it is to see the pedigree on the line at the Cyclone Invitational. When we observe a program like Kingston coming out of nowhere to field respectable girls and guys teams, surely there's a great story behind it.
-Fayetteville continues to show why they are the #1 boys' team in the state of Arkansas. Until we get a better feel for what Bentonville has to offer, I feel it is fair they stay there.
-I opened the article talking about some of the challenges coaches are facing in fielding full rosters with COVID quarantines taking place. Please realize that this special set of circumstances has made figuring out the full capacity of a team an extraordinary challenge.