6A Preview: 2023 Arkansas High School Outdoor Track & Field

The last few days of February in Arkansas have offered temperatures in the upper 70s and plenty of vitamin D. March, however, is a notoriously finicky month, and rain is forecast for Thursday in many parts of the state. Nonetheless, athletes across Arkansas will lace up their spikes this week and take to the track for their first outdoor meets. Reflecting on the results from the 2022 Arkansas high school outdoor track and field season, a short indoor season, and promising prospects, we now preview some of the athletes, events, and meets to watch in the coming months in the 6A division.

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Athletes to Watch

Raghan Allen (Sr, Conway HS): You can't talk about Arkansas high school girls' track and field without mentioning Raghan Allen. The senior will look to cap off a dominant career by continuing her win streaks in the 100m and 200m dashes. In 2022, Allen won the 200m in every meet she competed in and led the state with a PR of 24.60. She also won nearly every 100m race, including a state-best time of 11.98. Most recently, Allen swept the 60m (7.76) and 200m (24.90) at the Indoor HS Championship in Fayetteville on February 18th.

Laci Gartside (Sr, Har-Ber HS): The do-it-all senior from Har-Ber likewise carries momentum from solid 2022 outdoor and winter indoor campaigns into this season. Expect Gartside to be competitive in whatever she's entered in: 100m, 200m, 800m, 100m hurdles, 300m hurdles, high jump, long jump, triple jump, and heptathlon. Likely her strongest event is the triple jump, in which her best 2022 leap of 37-7 was top in 6A and #4 overall.

Hudson Betts (Sr, Fayetteville HS): The future Tennessee Volunteer cemented his hype last weekend at the Indoor HS Championships in Fayetteville, in which he swept the 1600m run (4:14.34) and 3200m run (9:13.39) and won the inaugural Harold Valentine Outstanding Award for his performances. He will look to defend his 2022 outdoor 6A crown in the 3200m and avenge a close loss in the 1600m final. Expect Dawson Welch (Sr, Har-Ber HS), Sam Boyer (Sr, Rogers Heritage HS), and Aidan McDaniel (Sr, Bentonville HS) to challenge Betts.

JJ Lockett (Sr, Rogers Heritage HS): Perhaps the most well-rounded male jumper in the state, Lockett will look to rake in wins in the high jump, long jump, and triple jump this outdoor season. He is capable of going 6-6 in high jump, 23-2.75 in long jump, and 45-11 in triple jump. If he puts it all together, he could put any doubts of his overall leaping preeminence to rest.

Events to Watch

Girls' 300m Hurdles: The last time 6A women were racing one another in the 300m hurdles at the outdoor state championships last May, five of them ran under 47 seconds. The winner of that race was Fayetteville HS senior Kessiah Bemis, who has since taken her talents to the University of Arkansas. The other four are back for more. Bemis' former teammates Julia Gunnell and Hannah Estes (now both seniors), along with Bentonville HS teammates Paisley Hight (a junior) and Allison Fernstrom (a senior), will make this event one to watch throughout the season.

Girls' Long Jump: In that same meet last year, five women went over 18 feet in the long jump, and three of them return for their senior campaigns: Emelia Thurston of Bentonville HS (the 6A champ in 2022 at 18-8.75) as well as the aforementioned Gartside and Gunnell. Also keep an eye on Bentonville West sophomore Riley Jandorf, whose promising freshman season took her over 17 feet.

Boys' 1600m and 3200m Runs: Betts, Welch, Boyer, and McDaniel (all mentioned above) are the undisputed favorites in these distance events, but don't count out a number of other competitors who made noise in 2022: Fayetteville HS junior Hunter Kemp, Har-Ber HS junior Jonathan Mendez and senior James Eslick, and Bentonville HS junior James American Horse in the 1600m, and Bryant HS junior Brandon Avila Giron, Eslick, and Bentonville HS teammates Thomas Henry (a senior) and Matthew Shelly (a sophomore) in the 3200m.

Boys Pole Vault: At the 6A state meet last May, Cabot's Quinn Hawkins (15-8) bested Bentonville West's Cade DeWitt (15-0), though DeWitt had the best overall jump of the season in the state (16-4.75). Nine months later, not only was DeWitt's February indoor clearance of 16-6 a PR for him, it was the #5 overall vault in the nation among high schoolers. DeWitt is comfortably the favorite for the event this spring, but don't expect the competition (including Hawkins) to let him have it easy.

Meets to Watch:

  • Bryant Hornet Relays @ Bryant HS - 3/14/23
  • Fayetteville Bulldog Relays @ Fayetteville HS - 3/31/23
  • Leon White Invite @ Cabot HS - 4/4/23
  • 6A Central Conference Championship @ Bryant HS - 4/27/23
  • 6A West Conference Championship @ Rogers HS - 4/27/23
  • 6A State Championship @ Fort Smith Southside HS - 5/4/23
  • Arkansas Meet of Champions @ Russellville HS - 5/10/23