By Rob Patrick
Track and field teams from up to 30 schools are set to be at Bryant Stadium this afternoon for the[more] annual Bryant Invitational meet, which will serve as the outdoor debut for the host Hornets and Lady Hornets. Field events are set to start at 3:45 p.m.
At 4, the schools will compete in a race that’s normally not a part of high school meets but prove to be one of the biggest crowd pleasers of collegiate track, the distance medley relay in which athletes who specialize at different distances, run their specialty as one of the four legs of the relay. The medley relay will be run instead of the 4×800.
The running finals will commence shortly after the conclusion of that race.
Both Lady Hornets coach Danny Westbrook and Hornets coach Steve Oury acknowledged that school records could be threatened.
For the girls, Alexis Royal, who has been phenomenally high-point scorer in 10 different meets so far in her career, will be teaming with Melinda Murdock, Fenice Boone and Leah Ward with an eye on surpassing the 400 meter relay standard at the school. Royal already has the school mark in three events (triple jump, 60-meter hurdles and the 300 hurdles as well as a member of the 4×100 relay team that broke the school mark).
For the Hornets, senior Spencer Sullivan could smash the school’s record in the 300 hurdles. At a practice meet in Conway on March 4, he almost broke 41 seconds. The school record is 40.3.
Royal, Murdock and senior distance runner Hannah Raney form the nucleus of the Lady Hornets team. Westbrook added Fenice Boone to the list.
“She got the second best quarter time as a freshman last year,” he noted. “She’s looking good. She’s had a little injury problem at Indoor but we’re looking for good things out of her.
“Alexis, Melinda and Fenice group up in the 4×100 with Gabby Allen,” the coach continued. “That’s two pretty strong relays with the 4×400.”
Royal’s outstanding season as a junior last year was undermined by a hamstring injury that prevented her from competing in the entire conference meet and the entirety of the State and Meet of Champs. Today’s warm temperatures will give her a chance to go for the high-point mark, Westbrook said, but she’ll be watched closely.
“She’s going for it,” he acknowledged. “We’ve really kind of tried to be careful with her. Every time she does anything, I cringe. But she begged into the 300 hurdles. We didn’t have her in that. If it was going to be cold — but she really wanted that extra event.”
The coach indicated that Camden Fairview will be bringing some particularly good individual athletes.
“But I think if Alexis does what she’s capable of doing, she should score 40-plus, you never know,” Westbrook said. “Of course, that’s pretty incredible.”
The coach called Raney the anchor of the team’s distance crew, which also includes Taylin Billins, Kaitlin Bell and Sam Maachi. “I look for all of them to score points,” Westbrook stated.
Of Murdock, he mentioned, “She’s so versatile. She’ll run the 100 hurdles, the 800 then she’ll do the mile relay. Her favorite event is the 300 hurdles but we can’t afford to put her in that this meet especially if we’re looking to win, trying to get the maximum amount of points. She’s just too important. And she understands that.”
Sophomore Jayla Anderson has joined the team from basketball. “She’s going to help us,” said Westbrook. “She’s going to score some points and, of course, she’s just now getting in shape. She has our junior high record in the 300 hurdles. So, I look for big points in the 300 with her and Alexis both in that race.”
The coach praised Ward, who comes after school to practice. “She doesn’t have to be here but she’s here about every day,” he mentioned. “That just says a lot about her determination and attitude about it all. She’s had an injury so she’s limited as far as her jumps. She’s just going to long jump. She’s our school record-holder in that.”
Westbrook also mentioned Myra Thompson in the throwing events, particularly in the shot put.
Regarding the Hornets, Oury said, “I’m looking forward to seeing how we react, how we compete against this big of a field. It’s going to be a huge field of teams. There’s going to be a lot of talent. It’ll be most all of the teams in central Arkansas plus State Indoor champion for boys, Rogers Heritage. There’s going to be some good competition. I’m really looking forward to see how we respond to it.”
The Hornets are led by Spencer and fellow senior Lester Lowery along with junior Tyler Purtle. They’ll also feature a strong group of sophomores.
“(Sullivan) is probably our top returning athlete from last year,” Oury said. “He’s already threatening the school record in the 300 meter hurdles. He’s also improved quite a bit in the 110 hurdles. We look for him to have an opportunity to score good points in both of the hurdle races.
“Lowery started to really come on at the end of the last year,” he added. “And Purtle is our best distance runner. He’s been looking really good in practice.”
The coach said he liked the talent among the sophomores.
“The junior high team that won the conference championship — those guys are ready to compete,” he stated. “Brendan Young, we’re hoping he’ll also score in the hurdles. Both he and Spencer scored at the State Indoor meet, third and fifth. We’re hoping Brendan can stay with Spencer. If he does that, I’m pretty confident they’ll both score pretty good points.”
He also pointed to twins John and Mark Winn. “John has been recovering from a hamstring injury last year and so far so good,” Oury stated. “He came in first place in the 200 meter dash in the practice meet at Conway. Right now, Mark is dealing with a little knee problem. We’re hoping to get him back later in the season.
“We have a good solid group of sophomore distance runners who continue to improve,” he noted. “They’re probably not far enough along to score individually in a meet this size but some of them are going to be running in the relays.
“We picked up some guys from football too. Jalen Bell’s running — I think it’s for the first time since he was in the eighth grade. He’s leading off our 4×100 relay. Darrian Jarrett has been a surprise. He’s on our 4×400 relay and also doing the high jump and long jump. He’s shown quite a bit of potential in both of those.
“Some of the sophomores are football players but they’ve been running track since seventh or eighth grade so they’re really enthusiastic about it,” Oury concluded. “It’s nice to have that kind of energy in our practices and our meets.”