By Rob Patrick
With seven of the nine runners that competed at the Class 7A State cross country meet last year, including[more] all five who made up the scoring group, the Bryant Lady Hornets are expecting a strong showing in 2011. And they get an unofficial start of the campaign today at 5:30 p.m. in Bishop Park in the annual intersquad meet.
The Lady Hornets, two-time defending 7A/6A-Central Conference champs, are led once again by Hannah Raney who begins her junior year after pacing the team as a freshman and a sophomore. She was 23rd overall to earn All-State honors last year then went on to earn a medal for the Arkansas team, finishing 23rd in the annual Arkansas-Oklahoma All-Star meet.
“She’s healthy, working hard,” said Lady Hornets head coach Danny Westbrook. “The only thing Hannah has to do — she’s got all the talent in the world as much as any we’ve had through here and we’ve had some really good runners through here — she’s got to reach down. It’s the mental part of it. That’s what she’s really got to work on. And she is.”
Marley Adams returns for her sophomore season after finishing second to Rainey among the Bryant runners at State, taking 27th overall. Seniors Stacy Emmerling and Ashlyn Lessenberry along with sophomore Kat Bolton completed the Bryant scoring group at the State meet. Senior Skylar Oswalt and sophomore Mikayla Douglas, who benefitted from the experience of running at State are also back.
Raney, Emmerling and Adams were all-conference performers as well.
Westbrook acknowledged, “We’re looking for big things out of the girls. We finished seventh at State last year. I thought we could’ve done better than that but we didn’t have a really good day that day. So, we’re looking for better things this year.”
The coach also expects junior Stephanie Cyz to compete for scoring honors.
“Stacy and Hannah are our two best right now, by far, as far as their fitness level and, of course, they’re both gifted with some speed,” Westbrook said. “That’s a good thing to have, especially at the end.”
The team will be buoyed by what the coach said is a strong group of freshmen too.
“A couple of them might have a shot at moving up and helping on the high school level,” he noted. “We’ve got a lot more depth this year than we’ve had in the past. Depth in this sport is good to have for sure because you’re going to have injuries and stuff like that.”
Those freshmen that may make a bid to move up include Caitlyn Bell, Lindsey Butler, move-in Lauren Ackley, Madison Rhodes and Emma Schock.
It also makes competition in practice runs like the intersquad meet interesting.
“We haven’t had too many really hard speed-type workouts yet,” Westbrook said. “We’ll hold off on that for a while but the ones we have had, it’s been competitive and that’s a good thing. Some of those upperclassmen kind of see the writing on the wall. They know they’re going to have to get after it.”
Along with Emmerling, Lessenberry and Oswalt, the team’s seniors include Caroline Bock, Grace Finley, Sydney Hall, Jahaira Juarez and Betheny Smith. Juniors are Skylar Combs, Ashton Eley, Raegan Norris and Savannah Reep along with Raney.
Adams, Bolton and Douglas are among the sophomore group that also includes Haylee Campbell, Samantha Macci, Melinda Murdock and Shelby Woodall. Other freshmen, besides Ackley, Bell, Butler, Rhodes and Schock, are Emily Ball, Talyn Billins, Sarah Caporelli, Jenna Freeman, Josie Hill, Kaitlin Johnson, Keilynn Lee, Katie Lynch, Mackenzie McEntire, Fernanda Olvera, Rose Railey, Abby Resendez, Brianna Rutherford, Hailey Squires, Anna Stearns and Kayla Yarberry.
Regarding the intersquad, the coach said, “It’s always fun. We split our teams up. We’ve got three teams and, of course, they’re running for Sonic coupons, which we sure appreciate Mike and Beverly Puckett for doing that for us every year. When you’re running for food, it motivates you a little more. But these girls are motivated already. They want their team to win.
“But it’s always good because you’re going to find people that maybe you don’t see in practice that, when the lights come on and they toe the line, they show up,” Westbrook concluded.