Arkansas XC: What You Might've Missed This Track Season

To me, June has always marked the beginning of the cross country season. School is out, the weather is getting better, summer vacation is in the rearview mirror (at least it usually was for me), and summer conditioning is starting next week.

While the Arkansas cross country season doesn't begin for another three months, it's never too early to look ahead toward next season. However, before we look towards the fall, let's take a look back at some of the biggest storylines and performances from the 2024 track season.

Arkansas enjoyed a renaissance in distance running during the 2023-2024 academic year, emerging as one of the most talented states in the United States. This upcoming year looks just as promising.

After sending an individual and a team to Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon last fall, expectations for the Natural State are higher than ever for this cross country season. Fortunately, based on the performances by underclassmen this spring, Arkansas is in good hands.

Let's dive into a recap of the distance news you might have missed during the 2024 track season.


River Hardman goes OFF

It seemed as if every week this spring I was reading something new about River Hardman. Whether it was a new state lead, another race win, or a state record, the standout from Russellville found himself in the headlines a lot this track season.

While he was fantastic in the 1,600m and 3,200m events, running personal bests of 4:10.22 and 9:17.39, the 800m was the senior's best event. Hardman competed in seven 800m events this season, winning six of those including wins at the Music City Track Carnival and 5A State Championships to go along with a podium finish at the Running Lane Championships.

Hardman finished with the fastest 800m in Arkansas this season, running a 1:51.47, which is an Arkansas state record and the 51st fastest time in the nation.

Hardman announced that he will attend the University of Missouri in the fall of 2024.

Gabbie Bishop. That's all.

There will be more to read about the sophomore from Providence Classical Academy available next week, so I will keep it brief today, but wow. What a season from Gabbie Bishop.

After an exciting freshman season, Bishop emerged from the shadow left behind by Olivia Pielemeier and enjoyed as big of a breakout season as any other athlete across the nation. The sophomore broke the 1,600m and 3,200m state records left by Pielemeier the year prior, running 4:45.01 and 10:19.96. Simply unbelievable.

With two high school seasons ahead of her and two state records behind her, the sky is the limit for the rising junior from Rogers.

Bentonville vs Rogers continues

I made it no secret last fall that the 6A Girls State Championship race between Bentonville and Rogers was what I was most excited for and it most certainly lived up to its expectations. It would be Rogers who came out on top of the team battle that day.

The rivalry continued this winter. Bentonville's Haley Loewe, the 2023-24 Gatorade Player of the Year and back-to-back cross country state champion, was the favorite to win the 1,600m at the Arkansas Indoor State Championships this winter, but once again, it was Rogers who would play spoiler as Lilly Beshears outleaned Loewe by 0.03 seconds to win the 1,600m crown.

This would not be the last time these two distance squads would race this track season. After several head-to-head matchups during the season, the rivalry culminated at the state meet where Haley Loewe finished her high school career victorious in the 1,600m and 3,200m and Bentonville won the 4x800m relay. Rogers' lone win came from Kayla Eggers in the 800m, a race in which Rogers swept the 1-2-3 positions.

There are over five months until the Arkansas Cross Country State Championships, but I can tell you right now that the duel between Bentonville and Rogers will be one we will be watching very closely this fall.

Alan Gallardo-Lopez runs a Sub 4:10 Mile

Alan Gallardo-Lopez had a strong sophomore cross country season last fall, running under 16:00 in three of his four races. This indoor season, he improved a little bit more, running a 4:25.98 in the 1-mile race at the Arkansas HS Invitational. Just four months later, the sophomore from Fayetteville finished the season with the 102nd fastest time in the United States.

The fact a 4:09.48 1,600m isn't inside the top 100, let alone the top 50 is absurd.

Regardless, with two more seasons ahead of him, the rising junior has positioned himself to follow in the footsteps of other Arkansas mile greats such as Camren Fischer, Reuben Reina, and Dylan Dew.

Matthew Shelly Up Next?

It was James American Horse who entered the 2023 season as the #1 in my individual distance rankings and it was his teammate Matthew Shelly who finished at the top. Heck of a testament to the program in Bentonville.

In a race that felt like it was anyone's to win, Shelly won the 6A Cross Country State Championship last fall and has been the "top dog" ever since, going on to win the indoor and outdoor state title in the 1,600m and 3,200m. 

Having collected all five championships that a long-distance runner can attain and qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals as a team, Shelly is playing with house money this fall and will be a fun runner to watch this fall.

Central Arkansas on the Rise

Many of Arkansas' fastest distance runners announced last fall that they were headed to out-of-state schools. Haley Loewe announced her commitment to Tennessee, River Hardman announced he was headed to Missouri, and James American Horse is going to Boston (as a former northerner, buy a few extra jackets).

Coach Weaver was hired by Central Arkansas from East Carolina in the summer of 2022 and ever since, the UCA program has taken off. Weaver and his staff have quickly turned UCA into a championship-contending program and one of the most competitive teams in the South Central.

As kids throughout the Natural State continued announcing their commitments to other out-of-state schools, others announced they would be staying home for school next fall. And nobody did a better job of keeping Arkansas kids in Arkansas than Coach Weaver in Conway.

Three of the best senior distance runners in Arkansas committed to the Bears program in 2023-24: William Hill, Jonathan Mendez Har-Ber, and Brooklyn Nicholson.

In a state with enough talent for two powerhouse track programs, pay careful attention to Central Arkansas as they develop their young program and continue to add some of the biggest recruits Arkansas has to offer across every discipline.