Week 5 Recap & Individual Rankings Per Classification


This past weekend marks 5 weeks of racing with 5 more to go. As we pass the halfway point, teams across the state are completing their varsity rosters and will begin pulling their miles back to begin sharpening for the championship season. The few runners across the state that have included morning runs into their training regimen can look forward to sleeping in an extra hour. With the blessing of the AAA, conference championships are only 3 weeks away! Routines felt like they were missing something without the annual pilgrimage to the Chile Pepper Festival this weekend, but NWA got the privilege of running on the course in albeit a much smaller meet. A few courses this weekend were over 30 seconds faster than early season meets and kids emerging from the weekend with fresh and shiny new PR's. I'll take a look at some of those meets below.


Sloan-Hendrix Invitational


Mid-week action was sparse this week, as teams rested and prepared for Saturday. On Tuesday, some smaller division schools got together for the Sloan-Hendrix Invitational. Abi Stone from Harding Academy led her team to the overall title, winning the race in 24:09. Harding Academy beat a respected Heber Springs program 25-38. On the boys side, Braden Davis of Bald Knob was the only runner under 20 minutes, winning the race in 19:37. Heber Springs perfect scored the 2-team competition to win the boys' team trophy. Times did appear to be close to a minute slower than earlier season meets across the board.  


Buck Fever Showcase


The town of Hope saw a slightly larger group of runners gather to compete at the Buck Fever Showcase. Maria Grano of Waldron, last year's 3rd place finisher in the 3A division, won by nearly 90 seconds running 21:53. Tessa Kuykendall of Ouachita was 3rd in 23:22, followed by Joselin Sanchez of Dequeen, who was 9 seconds back in 23:31. Dequeen girls won the team title over Waldron by a narrow 1 point margin, 36-37. Dequeen's team average was 20 seconds slower, but they benefitted from a 1-5 split of 2:45 to Waldron's 5:09. Justice Neufeld of Acorn won his 3rd race of the season, taking the boys crown in 17:13. It's his 3rd 5k under 17:15 this year, and Neufield continued his case for being considered as an individual title contender in the state's smallest class. Baltazar Garcia finished behind Neufield in 18:13, leading Dardanelle for the team championship who won 54-65 over Dequeen. The home team favorite Logan Meyers of Mena finished 3rd in 18:16.  


Chile Pepper Festival


Chile Pepper ran their modified version of the legendary race this week. It marked the first time this season that the NWA teams dropped the curtains and matched their full squads against each other.I hope that all winners from this race still earned a coveted Chile Pepper Festival ceramic plate, which is easily the coolest race award in the state.


Emily Robinson from Bentonville emerged from the race as the state's 5k time leader as she delivered blows running 18:30. Robinson won her 3rd race in a row in the process. Mia Loafman fought courageously but appeared to be human for the first time all season, finishing 9 seconds behind Robinson running 18:39 in a massive 25 second PR. Tenured and respected Fayetteville senior Mary Margaret Harris of Fayetteville was in 3rd place, also running a PR in 18:47. Madison Galindo of Bentonville finished 4th in 18:50, breaking 19 minutes for the first time in her career, followed up by Carson Wasemiller of Fayetteville in 19:10 who rounded out the top 5. 4 girls bested the state leading time of 19:01 in typical Chile Pepper fashion. Bentonville won their first of two team titles by beating Fayetteville 30-55. Their 19:06 team average and 61-second split sent shockwaves throughout the 6A classification. Rogers finished 3rd place behind those two teams.  


The boys' race was eagerly anticipated. Coaches across the state who scoured each weekend's results were posing the question of who would be able to challenge Reuben Reina of Har-ber. We got our answer this weekend. Dawson Mayberry of Bentonville ran an astounding 15:15 to win by a margin of 14 seconds over Reina. It's hard to imagine looking at the results that they are both seniors! It was an all too familiar match up. According to Milesplit, Reina and Mayberry have raced each other 15 times, with Reina leading the overall record 12-3. Mayberry proved that summer miles pay off by recording the 8th fastest 5k time in the state in the past 20 years. Reina's 15:29 was nothing to shake your head at, and behind him, Jack Williams of Fayetteville ran a PR of 15:33 to earn the bronze. Keegan Terrell of Bentonville West ran the race of his career, finishing 4th in a 10 second PR of 15:49. Jackson Stobaugh of Fayetteville rounded out the top 5 running 15:53. The Bentonville boys team narrowly defeated Fayetteville 56-57, in a margin eerily familiar to last year's state meet. Both teams average 16:22 and 16:21, and already I can't wait to watch them race for all the marbles in 5 weeks at Oaklawn.


Carson Austin from Farmington won the small school division, running 21:03 to best Joyce Ferguson of West Fork. Surprisingly, it's the first win in Austin's young career. Ferguson held off a hard-charging Liz Vazques, who finished 3rd to lead her Pea Ridge girls into a 31-72 win over West Fork. Pea Ridge put 5 girls in the top 12. Jacob Tyburski proved last weekend wasn't a fluke by running 16:52 to win the boy's small school division by 57 seconds over Jacob Braswell of Huntsville. Sean Worthman of Haas Hall finished 5 seconds back of Braswell, running 17:54. The team results show a Pea Ridge win, but somehow it appears that Haas Hall ran a split varsity squad? Haas Hall put 4 runners in front of Pea Ridge's #2, but some of their runners didn't count towards the team title. If you look at the results, it's an odd setup. Either way, Neufield will have his hands full with Tyburski in November if the NEW 1A/2A split doesn't water down the races. 

All in all, if you combine the top 5 runners from each race, 11 of the 20 set PR's on Saturday. The downside was, with COVID rules, runners across the state missed out on one of the only good chances in Arkansas to run a PR on one of the most storied 5k courses in the United States. Oh well, here's to next year's Chile Pepper Festival.


Wampus Cat Invitational


Over in Conway, central Arkansas teams gathered on what appears at face value to be a lightning-fast course. Macie Cash won her second race of the year, running 19:01 to earn a 17-second PR. Anyone who has ever run competitively knows the bitter-sweet feeling of running a massive personal best time, only to finish 2 seconds away from a huge milestone that breaking into the 18-minute range would represent. Lucky for Macie, she still has half a season left. Behind her, Olivia Pielemeier showed that last weekend's Cyclone Invitational was a fluke, by running 19:06 en-route to a 28-second PR. In a 5A girls race that is pretty much a toss-up at this point, Cash & Pielemeier will be the key person to push their teams to the title. Emma Selph from Benton finished 3rd in 19:49, Presley Roberts 4th in 19:51, and Ashlynn Prindle from Russellville was 5th in 20:08, setting a PR by over 60 seconds. Valley View girls continued filling their trophy cabinet this year, beating Cabot 76-83 in a 21:05 average. It was a tight race up top, as 43 points separated 1st and 5th place. 


The boys' race was another Conway duo 1-2, as John Sutton defeated Cade Swindle 15:44 to 15:53. Every coach in the state is used to seeing those two teammates work together in the front of the pack. They've raced together 44 times in their career. Sophomore star Noah Embrey from Greenwood and Grayson Young from Cabot broke 16-minutes for the first time in their career, finishing with Embrey outkicked Young 15:58.4-15:58.7. Zeke McCain from Lake Hamilton was 5th in 16:01. Lake Hamilton put 3 in the top 8 and all of their 5 scorers in the top 16 to win the team title 50-68 over Cabot. The 5A boys individual race is shaping up to be anyone's game.  


Up in Missouri, Mountain Home competed in the 17th Annual Camdenton Laker Invitational. 

Marcie Cudworth finished 2nd in a stacked field, running a PR of 18:40. The Mountain Home girls made some noise, finishing 4th out of 30 teams and averaging 20:21 among their top 5, buoyed by Cudworth. On the boys side, Whit Lawrence finished 7th in another loaded race which saw Missouri's #1 overall runner win in 15:12. Lawrence broke 15 for his 3rd time this season, running 15:50. Mountain Home boys finished 5th, averaging 16:43.  


Performance of the Week:

- Dawson Mayberry of Bentonville's big win at Chile Pepper in 15:15


- Emily Robinson of Bentonville running a state leading 18:30 to win Chile Pepper.


Surprises of the Week:

- Bentonville boys over Fayetteville. Any casual observer with some cross country knowledge could tell that Bentonville was a better team than they looked early on. The toughest challenge for a cross country analyst is figuring out how different courses match up. However, Fayetteville had been on an early season tear and showed no signs of stopping. 

I should preface this paragraph with a 1-point differential hardly means anything right now.  


- Bentonville West boys. Excuse me for missing it, but I never pinned them to be good enough to tie a solid Har-ber team. That puts 4 teams in the mix for the 6A boys competition.  


- Conway's home cross country meet was FAST.


- Can it be time for the Lake Hamilton meet already? If you look at the entry list, you can tell that it is going to be a fantastic showdown.   


- Stay tuned later in the week for an in-depth look at each classification at the halfway point.