Nearly 200 runners from seventh grade to 12th will toe the starting line of the Bryant cross country program’s annual intrasquad meet at Bishop Park today. The team will be split into three groups to compete in the meet. The girls competition will begin at 5:30 p.m., at the back of the Park, adjacent to the soccer fields. The boys race will begin thereafter. Both will run two miles.
Coach Danny Westbrook acknowledged that it’s probably the most the program has had out.
“That’s the nature of the sport,” he noted. “Everybody can run. Nobody sits the bench.”
The Lady Hornets are led by senior Melinda Murdock who had quite a successful 2012-13 capped off by her qualifying for AAU Junior Nationals in track for the second year in a row this summer. She finished seventh in the 800 meters.
Last fall, she finished fourth overall at the Class 7A State cross country meet and was named all-State. She earned all-State in indoor track as a member of the State championship 4×400 relay team. In outdoor track, she again earned all-State recognition when she not only won the 800 at the State meet but set a new State record with a 2:15.4 clocking.
“Just great leadership, work ethic,” Westbrook said. “I just wish I had four more to go with her and we’d be really, really good.
“I’m just hoping we can find five that can get up to the front, stay there and finish there,” he continued. “That’s the name of the game in cross country.
“Melinda will have a green light. She doesn’t have any packing responsibilities. I’ll ask Melinda to just go out there and do what you can do. We’ll do some packing, probably multiple packs behind her. And then reduce the gaps. That’s the key to winning. We’ve been doing some packing strategies in practice and I like what I’m seeing.
Westbrook mentioned a pair of juniors that have stepped forward, Talyn Billins and Caitlyn Bell.
“A surprise this year, new to running and new to the team, is senior Gabby Crabtree,” he added. “She ran track last spring and continued working hard over the summer. She has just a great attitude, just mentally tough. I’m excited about that.
“A couple of sophomores are stepping up, Hannah Shelby and Hunter Delaney,” the coach continued. “They’re going to have to come through for us to be successful.
“There are some upper classmen that could possibly work in, Mikayla Douglas, who worked really hard over the summer and came in in better shape than she ever had into the summer. Lauren Ackley and Marley Adams, both could possibly contribute down the road. Then freshmen Sydney Wilson probably will be high school before the end of the year. She’s got a lot of talent. The other freshman who’s looking pretty good right now is Rachel Curtis.”
The team also includes seniors Kat Bolton, Megan Hodge and Anna Smedley; juniors Alanna Cordova and Alyssa Cordova, Keilynn Lee and Katie Lynch; sophomores Emma Barnes, Melissa Barrientos, Kaylee Butler, Grace Byars, Kayleah Daly, Monica Griffin, Kaitlyn Higgs, Frida Ruiz and Reagan Smith. Along with Wilson and Curtis, the freshmen are Anne Cockmon, Rachel Chappell, Sarah Sellers, Ashlie Sparks, Jamie Hammers, Abigail Mead, Kaylee Rawls, Madelyn Elswick and Katherine Goins.
When the Hornets competed at the State meet last year, all five finishers and all nine who competed were underclassmen. So that figured to bode well for 2013 and head coach Steve Oury acknowledges that is the case, with one caveat.
“We have, basically, everybody back from last year. I’d say, right now Charlie Terry, a 10th grader, has been leading the way for us in workouts. He’s worked really hard this summer,” Oury said. “The toughest thing we’re dealing with right now is the fact that our senior leader, Tyler Purtle, is dealing with an injury. We’re not sure when we’re going to get him back. We’re optimistic we can get him back by the end of cross country but, if not, we’ll have him hopefully ready for track.”
Terry was the team’s third finisher at State last year as a freshman, finishing behind Connor Wilson and Nicholas Schmidt.
“Connor Wilson ran in the all-star meet last year as a 10th grader. He’s looking pretty good,” Oury said. “Between him and Tyler and Charlie, those were our top runners most of last year. Nicholas was also a 10th grader last year. He had a great State meet. He was consistently in our top five last season.”
The coach continued, “Clifton Hampton had a breakthrough season in track so we’re hoping he can do the same in cross country. Then we’ve got some newcomers, a couple of move-ins. Derek Vos is from Minnesota and Matthew Hubbard’s from Fort Smith. They’re both 10th graders who have been looking really good in practice.
“Probably another 10th grader who has looked as good as anybody in practice, consistently day-in and day-out, just staying on Charlie Terry’s tail has been Ben Majors,” Oury mentioned. “He works really hard.”
He went on to note the work of junior Nathan Stewart and senior Spencer Adami as well.
“(Nathan) is not afraid to get out there and mix it up with anybody,” Oury said. “His little brother Eric Stewart has been looking pretty good too. Spencer Adami is just a hard worker. I fully expect him to be in play to be in our top nine by the end of the year when State comes around.”
Seniors on the team also include Phillip Barnett, Alex Houpt, Dylan Masters and Blake Reed. Other juniors are Antonyo Sanchez, Josh Sanders, Dru Wen (who was Bryant’s fifth finisher at State last year), and Mark Winn. Sophomores include Ian Britt, Stephen Cockmon, Joey Colvert, Travis Cumming, Clayton Harvey, Wyatt Heavin, Justin Karp, Jared Marsh, Sam Martin, Zane Pitman, Justice Pryor, Peyton Reber, Chandler Reep, Nathan Suarez, Danny Vivar and Josh Yenner.
Bryant’s freshman team is Ramon Aguilera, Konner Ausbrooks, Samuel Bassham, John Carder, Carson Cato, Braeden Gaines, Spencer Golden, Austin Guthrie, John Hampton, Isaac Helgested, Noah Hill, Blake Hughes, Peyton Ipsen, Dylan Jenkins, Jakub Jilek, Edgar Juarez, James Lasley, Drew Matthews, Landon Middleton, Carson Molder, Estevan Ramos, Joe Sartini and Javier Zamora.
“We have talent here but we also have some really nice talent in the junior high group,” Oury said. “We’ve got some eighth graders that are really looking outstanding right now. I’ve told our senior guys to not be surprised if they look up and see some eighth graders up there mixing it up with them.
“We have a lot of guys that have looked really good so far in practice so it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out,” he added. “Right now, if I were to guess the top eight, it would be purely guesswork. We take eight to Chile Pepper and that’s coming up pretty soon (Oct. 5). It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out in the instersquad.
“Obviously, we’d like to have Purtle healthy but, even without him, we feel like we have the pieces in place where we can have guys that can step up,” Oury concluded. “Tyler’s been doing a great job of being a leader even though he’s not able to run right now. We’re just hoping that these guys will be fearless, to be ready to go out there and not be intimidated by anyone and, by the end of the year, be ready to run our best.”