Over the past two weeks, schools across Arkansas have begun opening up their 2023 cross country seasons, preparing for the upcoming months leading to the Arkansas State Championships in November.
Before we arrive in Hot Springs for the fall classic, there are several big-time cross country meets on the horizon, and today, we decided to list out the five biggest meets remaining before the state meet.
Let's take a look at the meets with the biggest storylines and implications before November's "big dance."
5. Caveman Open
Where: Cave City, Arkansas
When: October 3rd, 2023
While last season's event didn't produce any eye-popping results, the Caveman Open still contested two 2A state champions, to go along with Zoe Williamson, who has broken out in a big way in 2023 and looks to be the most competitive small-school spotlights in the state this season.
This season, the Caveman Open looks to play host to several top distance runners on October 3rd. 2023 1,600m 2A state champion Ellie Akins, last season's winner, and Williamson, one of the hottest names in Arkansas so far this fall, will return to headline a pretty competitive girls race.
While the boys race does not feature as much star power as the girls, it still should be plenty deep and encourage gritty racing on a difficult course. Quitman, last fall's 2A state champions, will be in attendance, as well as a handful of other state-qualifying programs.
Where: Hot Springs, Arkansas
When: October 14th, 2023
The teams traveling to the Lake Hamilton Invitational in the middle of October will be the lone teams that will receive a sneak peek at this season's state course, which could make all the difference in the world come race day.
On the girls side, this race will be the second showdown between Haley Loewe and Lilly Beshears (assuming the two race at Chile Pepper), which will be an excellent preview for this season's state meet on the state course.
Bentonville will also be able to size up Rogers for the second time of the season, who appears to be the biggest threat to Bentonville's sixth straight state championship.
In the boys race, Bentonville's top 7 will be looking to give themselves an advantage over their 6A competition come three weeks later at the championship meet, when they will look to put their entire top 7 on the podium.
In cross country, a true home-field advantage is rare to come by. Being able to run the state course three weeks before the biggest meet of the season is the closest thing there is to a home course advantage and should give the teams competing reassurance entering the postseason.
Where: Russellville, Arkansas
When: September 23rd, 2023
Aside from #1 on this list, the Cyclone Invitational might be the deepest invitational in the Natural State this season.
And if this meet couldn't get more exciting, Milesplit Arkansas will be in attendance for pictures, videos, and interviews, so be sure to keep an eye out for the red shirts!
Both races will contest some of the fastest individuals in the state, as well as some of the best team races we will see all season.
River Hardman and Paul Rivera will be eager to put on a show in front of their home crowd coming off their 1-2 performances at the Little Rock XC Classic this past weekend, while Russellville will be excited to see how they stack up against a few other teams in the state as well.
Brooklyn Nicholson and Elizabeth Merritt are two of the top names entered in the girls race in two weekends. Bryant fell to Russellville this past weekend by a considerable 72 points, which will be an interesting storyline to follow leading up to this race.
Where: Siloam Springs, Arkansas
When: September 16th, 2023
Featured Teams: Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers
This week's Panther Classic looks to be the most competitive race of the season in Arkansas to this point.
While Bentonville will likely send their top boys squad to the Lovejoy XC Fall Festival in McKinney, Texas, other top programs such as Fayetteville and Rogers will still be in attendance and likely be able to showcase their programs at full strength for the first time this season.
Rogers' duo of Henry Woods and Hudsyn Boles will get their third race of the season under their belt while 2023 4A track state champions Tian Grant and Matthew Thurman will face the deepest field they have yet to race against this fall.
Bentonville has their top girls squad entered for this week's event, which in this case will mark the first of what could be three head-to-head matchups for Bentonville and Rogers (as well as Loewe and Beshears) before the fall classic in Hot Springs this November.
Not only will these two goliaths have their top girls squaring up for the first time this season, but Gabbie Bishop enters with the third fastest personal best amongst the field and will be another factor in this race on Saturday.
Where: Fayetteville, Arkansas
When: September 30th, 2023
Featured Teams: Basically Everyone
As if there was any doubt as to what meet would be #1 on this list.
The Chile Pepper Festival is not only the biggest meet in Arkansas, but among one of the most notable meets across the entire country, as runners will flock to the Natural State from several other states, just to get a crack at one another on a pristine course, which plays host to the state's two premier distance schools, the University of Arkansas and University of Central Arkansas, the day prior.
We can expect some incredible competition for many of the state's brightest stars including James American Horse, Haley Loewe, Lily Beshears, and many others.
One storyline to keep an eye on will be the status of Joseph Bariola and whether or not he races at Chile Pepper this season. As of now, Lakeside is not scheduled to race at this season's event or any other top meets throughout the state, but this would be a terrific opportunity for Bariola to see how he stacks up against the best in Arkansas.