This week marks the end of the invitational season and it couldn't have finished up in a more spectacular fashion. Outside of a few meets this week, most of the major players will begin their taper and preparation for championship season. Most of the top-10 teams are now finished with their regular-season racing. Let's look at how they finished this past week.
Race on the Ridge
Katelyn Provence of Cedar Ridge got the win in Paragould at the Race on the Ridge. Times were exceptionally slow at this meet, where Provence's 21:21 was good enough to put nearly 1-minute on 2nd place Kendal Minton of Valley View. Teammate Sophey Pope finished 5 seconds behind Minton to wrap up the 3 spot, as Valley View went 2-6 to win the team title with a perfect score without their usual #1 runner on the starting list (Cedar Ridge didn't field a full team).In only her 2nd race of the year, Provence looks the part of the favorite in the 2A girls race.
Brandon Grant of Batesville won his 2nd race this year in 18:19, as he preps to defend his 4A-3 conference title. It wasn't a given though, as he outran Steven Harrison of Jonesboro to the line and won by 4 seconds. Brit Hawkins of Valley View finished 3rd on the day. Batesville won the team title in runaway fashion over Marion, 32-73.
Bald Knob Area Meet
Vallie Cantrell of Heber Springs got her 2nd win in as many weeks, running 23:51 on a difficult course to best hometown favorite Taylin Green by 39 seconds. Cantrell's teammate, Sydney Buffalo, was 3rd in 24:33. It was enough to give the Heber Springs girls the advantage in a dual meet against Bald Knob, which they won 20-36.
Luke Walling of Cave City soloed the boys race, which he won in the largest margin of victory yet this season. His 17:40 finishing time was 2:41 faster than his running mate Justin Stauffer, who finishing 2nd in 20:21.Davis Smith of Sloan-Hendrix was 3rd in 20:23.Walling should run virtually untested until his showdown with Connor Jackson at the state meet. Heber Springs bested Cave City in the dual meet competition, 25-34.
Danny Westbrook Bryant Hornet Invitational
The flat and fast Bryant home meet impressed us again, as Whitley Terry of Lakeside won the girls race in a big PR of 19:37. Terry managed to hold off hard-charging Benton senior Emma Selph, who also ran a PR in 19:38, finishing just 1 second back of Terry. Conway 9th grader Meg Swindle moved up to the high school level after making a name for herself racing 2-miles in impressive fashion. Her 3rd place time of 19:54 ranks 5th this season among freshman girls. Presley Roberts from Greenbrier was 4th place, as she prepares for the gauntlet of the 5A West girls conference meet. Lillian King of Conway finished 5th place in her first cross country meet ever, running 20:52 en route. Lakeside girls did just enough to beat Conway 46-49, despite having the widest 1-5 split among the top 5 teams at 2:17.If they can manage to shrink that split in 2 weeks they are going to be a problem for other 5A girls teams.
On the boys side, John Sutton won his 3rd meet this year in 16:06, defeating defending 5A champ Dominic Ward by 24 seconds. Ward, who ran 16:30, found himself in no man's land for the latter part of the race. Dylan Dew from Lakeside continued his stellar 2020 campaign by finishing 3rd in 16:38. Logan Gates of Greenbrier finished 4 seconds behind Dew in 16:42, and 8 second behind him Bresner Austin of Bryant wrapped up the top 5.Sutton has had an exceptional year, and I'm sure he's eager to see how he matches up against some of the teams in the 6A west. The boys team race was one of the tightest we've seen this year, as 22 points separated 1st-4th. Anchored by Sutton, Conway overcame a 2:26 1-5 split to win 70-76 over 2nd place Lakeside. Conway's 2-5 split, a better measure when you have a power front runner like Sutton, was 1:29. Hometown favorite Bryant was 3rd place with 84 points and Cabot found themselves holding the short stick as they rounded out the top 4.Lakeside, Bryant, and Cabot all looked identical on paper. Their team averages were 17:23-17:27-17:32 respectively, and their 1-5 splits were 1:16-1:05-1:00.
Bomber Invite #2
The girls race in Mountain Home saw 5 girls with realistic shots to win state championships: Brayden Kantola, Marcie Cudworth, Juliah Rodgers, Abbey Linville, and Taylor Hooten. Cudworth came out on top, running 19:43, 18 seconds ahead of Missouri 4A favorite Brayden Kantola of West Plains. Abbey Linville and Juliah Rodgers of Rural Special and Jessieville were 3rd and 4th. Both leading their state's classification, only 9 seconds separated the two. For reference, 5:29 girl Jayna Gunter of West Plains was 6th place in the race. West Plains girls dominated the team race, beating Mountain Home 22-46.2A favorite Quitman was 3rd with 95 points.
The boys race was a scrap up front, as Riley Simpson of West Plains and Whit Lawrence of Mountain home spent 3.1 miles running beside each other. In the end, Simpson edged Lawrence 15:58-16:01.Both would manage to break a legendary course record of 16:11.Both the #1 & #2 times on that course were run by 4:15/9:10 guys. Gabe Gonzalez had the fastest time from an Arkansan on that course of 16:21, so expect big things from Simpson and Lawrence this outdoor season. Andrew Westphal of Mountain Home was 3rd place in 16:55, as he ran most of the race with no one around him. Westphal won last years' Nike South Emerging Elite race, and looks like his old self more every race. Mountain Home managed to beat West Plains one last time on the season, 26-32.
Van Buren Classic
Macie Cash has been near automatic all year, and that continued this weekend with a win at the Van Buren Classic. Her time of 19:37 is the 4th fastest ever ran on the Van Buren course and she bested Clarksville's Chloe Weathers by a 32-second margin. Cash's teammate, Madelyn Wilkinson, ran her fastest time of the year in 20:25 to finish 3rd. Greenwood girls won the overall team title with 44 points and a 21:01 average, nearly half the points of 2nd place finisher Siloam Springs. West Fork girls won the small school division 39-51 over Waldron.
Luke Walling garnered another win in the boys race after an all but quiet first half of the season, defeating standout sophomore from Greenwood, Noah Embrey.Small school breakout star Jacob Tyburski just managed to outkick Siloam Springs' Michael Capehart for the 3rd spot, 16:48-16:49.Walling's time of 16:13 represents his fastest of the season to date. Bentonville's B squad scored 70 points for the win over Rogers Heritage B squad. West Fork boys won the school's second team trophy by winning the 1A-4A division over Subiaco Academy 31-41.
Dragon Country Invitational
Ali Looney from Parkers Chapel earned her second win of the season, running 21:25 on the Genoa Central course. Briana Puente from Hope finished 2nd in a time of 22:59. Genoa Central girls won the dual meet against Dequeen girls in blowout fashion, 17-42.
In the boys' race, Joseph Garay from Hermitage also got his 2nd win of the season, running 18:24.Garay defeated home team favorite Noah Brent, who ran 19:12 to finish 2nd. Hermitage also managed to win the team title over Genoa Central 56-74, with a 20:49 average.
Lake Hamilton Invitational
The Lake Hamilton Invitational brought with it the most anticipated meet of the season, and the results didn't disappoint.
In the girls race, Carson Wasemiller of Fayetteville flipped the script from Chile Pepper on Emily Robinson of Bentonville. Wasemiller ran 18:36 in doing so, which is the fastest time of her career, to win the race. Robinson was 2nd, running 19:06.The state's leading freshman, Kayla Hurley, finished 3rd in a respectable 19:17, and was followed in by another exceptional sophomore in Ava Sawyer who ran 19:19. Finally, Madison Galindo rounded out the top to help Bentonville put 3 in the top 5, and 5 in the top 9, which would go ahead and lock up the team win for them scoring an anemic 27 points to Fayetteville's 64.
If the girls' race was a front running story, then the boys' race was all about a lead pack.Upfront, the Mayberry brothers were dominant. Dawson Mayberry won the race, running 15:29 to best his brother Dylan who nailed a huge PR of 15:31.Dawson is 3/3 in the season and shows no signs of regressing. Fayetteville's #1 Jack Williams was 3rd, just a few seconds back in 15:36, and was followed by Connor Jackson of Manila who ran 15:40. Conway's John Sutton wrapped up the top 5, running 15:55 in the process. Bentonville boys bested Fayetteville 49-75 in the team race, with Lake Hamilton boys not far behind with 88 points, and Bentonville West Scoring 90.
Performance of the Week:
-Luke Walling of Cave City winning 2 races in 5 days, and defeated some solid competition at the Van Buren Classic.
-Carson Wasemiller stamped her name in the "to be considered for state title" column, by defeating solid competition at the Lake Hamilton Invitational.
- Not my original thought, but Jim Yurwitz pointed out to me that no girls team has ever averaged under 19 minutes, and Bentonville girls could very well could become the first.
- Lake Hamilton boys posted a 36 second 1-5 split, which is one of the lowest I've seen from a team of their caliber within the state of Arkansas. Other splits of concern were a 40 second 1-6, and 22 second 2-5. Simply put, a whole bunch of wolves are going to cross the line in a blink at the state meet. Scary thought, their #4 was the only senior that raced on Saturday.
- Greenwood girls looked a little better this week with a solid #2 performance for their class.
- Though Bentonville boys are the favorite right now, and they've earned it, they aren't in the clear. Fayetteville had a nearly identical 1-5 split and averaged only 12 seconds slower than them. Any casual cross country observer knows a 12 second team average difference can flip quickly depending on who has a good day.
- Carson Wasemiller's first win of her career couldn't have come on a bigger stage or in a more astounding fashion. She cut 30 seconds from her PR in the process.
- Hopefully, Kayla Hurley and Ava Sawyer will be a showdown that we become accustomed to over the next 3 years. Those two are incredibly talented and there isn't much that separates them.
- Luke Walling vs. Connor Jackson.I may sound like a broken record, but that matchup can't come soon enough.
- I'm going to ahead and declare that with good conditions, the boys course record goes down this year. I think there are 4 guys that have a legitimate shot at it right now. It's going to take a battle of talents up front, and the 6A race sets up for that better than any others. Kids shouldn't be running on fresh legs just yet, so they should have quite a bit to give in November, and there is always a guy or girl that drops a performance at the state meet that leaves us wondering where in the world it came from.