After another week, we are now less than four weeks from the state meet! There were some fantastic team and individual performances this week, thanks in part to some statewide cooling weather.
Cave City Invitational
I've been to the Cave City Invitational course, and it isn't for the faint of heart. Half of the course is in around a field, the other half winds through a hilly and rocky trail that would be more fitting for mountain back riding. In my humble opinion, it should be in the conversation for one of the most difficult courses in the state. If you're a coach that sees value in your runners getting exposure on a really hard course every year, this one should be on your radar. Cave City coach Brandon Haling is in his 5th season, and though they are a little down this year, he has all but turned Cave City into a feared name in 3A cross country.
On the boys' side, Luke Walling of Cave City defended his home turf and soloed 17:18 to win by 2:10. 17:18 wouldn't typically raise any eyebrows, but it's the fastest time ever run on that course, and I promise it will put you through the wringer. This was the first race for Walling in a month, and he appears to be as fit as ever. Braden Davis of Bald Knob ran 19:28 to garner runner-up honors, and 25 seconds behind him was Preston Wright of Highland in 19:53 to get the bronze. Heber Springs #1 boy was in 7th place, but they put 6 guys between 7th-14th to earn the team trophy. Bald Knob & Cave City were the only other complete teams.
On the girls' side, Vallie Cantrell of Heber won the race in 23:29. Cantrell was only 24th place at last year's state meet, but she has an impressive 4th place indoor showing in the 3200m to her name. The time represents a season PR for her. Teammate Maygan Jarvis was 2nd in 24:06, and Taylin Green of Bald Knob rounded up the medal places. Heber Springs won their second team title of the day, defeating Bald Knob 21-35.
Heading to the south part of the state, Nashville hosted their PRT Invitational.
The boys' race saw 11 guys break 18 minutes, which tops most small school races you'll find. Dylan Dew of Lakeside got his second win of the year, running 16:30 in an 11 second PR to best Acorn's Justice Neufeld. Neufeld, who broke 17 for the first time in his career, ran 16:35 in challenging Dew upfront. Jadon Cunningham of El Dorado, who's win last week at their home meet I completely missed (apologies were had), also broke 17 for the first time in his career, finishing in a time of 16:46. I would love to know what the El Dorado school record is because he can't be too far away. Standout Freshman Joseph Bariola took a swing at 16 minutes and came up .4 short, running 17:00.4. I imagine it's only a matter of time until he breaks through the barrier. Lakeside won the boys event with 30 points and a small 17:20 average ahead of Dequeen, who is an all too familiar matchup for them at this point in the season.
In the girls' race, defending 2A champion Juliah Rodgers delivered the first and only loss to Whitley Terry this season, and she did so in PR fashion, running 19:25. Terry finished 45 seconds back, running 20:10, which though not a PR, is her fastest time of the season this year. Rodgers looks to get a little better each week. Maria Grano of Waldron, who was mentioned in my mid-season recap, finished 3rd in a PR of 20:26. Further back was Lakeside's #2, Molly Fortin, who finished 4th in 21:10 to help her team to the overall win, as Lakeside defeated Waldron 24-47. Lakeside boys and girls are both top 10 teams overall, who hold team averages of 17:15 and 21:32.
The Greenwood Invitational was the loan race on the calendar on Thursday. An old college roommate made the short trip over to get a little cross country in his life and told me the course was pretty gnarly. Results back his claim. The race was split into 3 divisions, which makes covering it a little difficult. Noah Embrey of Greenwood continued his breakout sophomore campaign and defended his home turf to win the overall title in 17:32. He was the only finisher to break 18 minutes on the day. Isaac Teague of Southside was 2nd overall, and 1st place in the 6A race, running 18:02 and narrowly outkicking Daniel Ratliff of Bentonville. Aries Burasco of Rogers was 4th place, running 18:05, and was followed up by another 5A runner having a breakout year in Michael Capehart from Siloam Springs. Rogers boys won the overall and the 6A division, with a grueling 18:46 average to show the course took no prisoners. Greenwood boys won the 4A-5A division, narrowly beating Siloam Springs 48-52. Elijah Cook of Heavener won the small school individual race in 19:38, and Heavener was the only team in the class. Embrey shows a little more each race that he should be considered a worthy challenger to Ward, Lawrence, and Westphal in the 5A boys' individual race.
On the girls' side, Mia Loafman won her 4th race this year, running 20:13 to defeat her teammate Ali Nachtigal by 11 seconds. As expected, Nachtigal looked closer to her usual self this year, which would concern me slightly if I was a 6A girl hoping for a title win. Hailey Day of Rogers finished 3rd, in 20:56, to close out a good Rogers 1-2-3. Macie Cash finished right behind Day in 20:58, which would put her 4th overall, but be good enough to win the 4A-5A division. The story of the meet was sophomore Aubree Willie of Van Buren, who looks to be rounding into form after a decorated freshman campaign. Willie finished 5th overall and 2nd in 4A-5A, but made a quiet statement by only finishing 6 seconds back of veteran Cash.
Jadelynn Wood of Mansfield won the girls' small school individual race in 26:03. On the team side, Rogers girls won it going away with an average of 21:26, while Greenwood averaged 22:38 to finish 2nd overall and 1st in their division. Rogers girls are a couple of runners away from consideration for the 6A trophy, but they've pulled off bigger upsets. Greenwood looks to challenge Mountain Home in 5A.
Vilonia Everybody 5k
I couldn't help but laugh when I pulled on the calendar for Saturday, and it said, "Vilonia Everybody 5k- Meet Full." It made for quite the oxymoron. Jokes aside, Vilonia debuted their course earlier this year on YouTube with ariel footage, and it looks like they put some TLC into the set-up for hosting their conference later in the year.
Dominic Ward, who will also get to run the course in a couple weeks, won the boys race in 16:29 with no one to challenge him. Ward looked a little better each week last year, culminating in his state championship in November, and that appears to be the same story this year. Carter Sykes of Russellville ran 16:50 to tie his PR from Conway earlier this month. David Adams from Vilonia was the home team's top finisher in 3rd place with a time of 17:01. Russellville finished on top of the team race, besting home team Vilonia 44-68. Benton looks about as good as I can remember, with a #3 guy @ 18:19 and a 17-flat kicker, and managed to finish 2 points behind Vilonia to get 3rd.
Speaking of Benton, Emma Selph won the girls' race 12 seconds ahead of Presley Roberts from Greenbrier in 19:55. It was the first win of the season for Selph, who is finishing out her senior year. Ashlynn Prindle of Russellville was 3rd in 20:33. Vilonia won the girls' race, their first of the year, ahead of Benton, 40-62. Vilonia's #6 ran 23:30 and #7 23:40, so the depth is there for them to be a competitive team on a larger stage, but they are missing the power #1 runner some of their peers have.
Springdale Schools Invitational
The Springdale Schools Invitational was the highlight meet in a relatively quiet week. The meet was set up to be true to distance, but blazing fast. Brock Wooderson from Blue Springs put on a show as he won the boys race in 15:21. Reuben Reina finished 2nd in 15:47, but I'm not sure the 26-second gap tells the whole story. I haven't talked to anyone who was at the race, but when a racer thinks they are the best person in the race, they tend to leave time on the table in an effort to win the race. I imagine that's what happened here, and had Reina been more conservative, the gap would have been much closer. Dawson Welch of Har-ber ran a breakout 15:53 to dip under 16 minutes for the first time in his young career, and Har-ber went 2-3-4 with a 16:26 from Jonny Cordero. Jacob Tyburski of Haas Hall Bentonville continued his impressive season by finishing behind Cordero in 16:34 to win the small school division. Har-ber scored 37 points to win relatively unchallenged against a Fayetteville Jr. High Team and a partial squad from Bentonville West. Haas Hall Academy made a statement by winning the team title in the small school division of private school Providence Academy, 55-58. Their 19:00 average may be fast enough to make some noise that Episcopal Collegiate can hear on the other side of the state, as EC is the current leader in the 3A rankings.
In the girls' race, freshman Ava Sawyer of Har-Ber won the first race of her career in a big PR of 19:13. She also bested teammate Abby Elcan by 4 seconds on her way to doing so, and Elcan has been dynamite all season. Sawyer is going to be a blast to watch race if she buys in and continues putting the work in for the rest of her career. Mary Beth Bailey from Jonesboro, who has been pretty quiet early this year for a 5:33 1600m girl, broke 20 minutes for the first time running 19:59.85. It's no surprise, we've gotten pretty used to seeing a solid Jonesboro #1 girl over the past 4-5 years. Maria Grano from Waldron had another big week, running 20:37 to win the small school division, 11 seconds ahead of Maggie Gregory from Pottsville. Har-ber girls have had moments where you thought they could turn a curve this year and having Sawyer run a big PR sure helped them in getting the win Saturday. 3A #1 Waldron barely beat out 1A #1 Kingston by a margin of 8 points, 40-48. The 23:07 team average from Kingston puts them 90 seconds ahead of anyone in their class.
The Wooderson kid who beat Reina is no joke; his 8:56 indoor 3k PR looks more like a solid D2 runner than it does a high school junior (when he ran it). He's probably the #3 kid in the state of Missouri, which is typically much better individually than Arkansas is, so I wouldn't take anything from him.
Performance of the Week
- Luke Walling running 17:18 on the monster of a course that Cave City is.
- Ava Sawyer running 19:13 to win at Springdale, a solid time for the young freshman.
Surprises of the Week
- I'll continue some slight praise to Walling. I was crossing my fingers he was still active this season, having only raced once, and he delivered in a big way. This course is an easy 60+ seconds slower than a flat and manicured course.
- I'd love to see Jacob Tyburski's summer training log. He's gotten much better this year, and I'd be willing to bet it's no accident.
Summer miles will build champion contenders every time.
- A quick shoutout again to Jadon Cunningham and El Dorado, who won both their team and individual races 2 weeks ago, and I failed to show them some love.
- The Lake Hamilton home meet is always a big one, but this year it's going to be extra special. Without Chile Pepper or some of these other major meets that usually stakes different classes against each other, this will be the best look we get at seeing some rare matchups.