Lady Hornets impressive at Oaklawn meet
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HOT SPRINGS — In a huge field of 17 teams and 202 individuals, the No. 1-ranked Bryant Lady Hornets placed four runners in the top seven places in a dominating performance at the Lake Hamilton Invitational cross country meet on Saturday, Oct. 12.
The senior boys field was even larger with 28 teams and 275 runners. Newly ranked at 8th in the state, the Hornets placed sixth.
In junior high competition, eighth grader Ethan Blakley captured the individual title in a field of 136, leading the Mustangs to a third-place finish. Likewise, the Lady Mustangs finished third despite the fact that three of their members were unavailable as they ran for the high school squad.
The meet was held at Oaklawn Park, site of the Class AAAAA State meet on Nov. 9.
The Lady Hornets, unbeaten against Arkansas competition, finished with 34 points, well ahead of second place Lake Hamilton’s 87. Senior Candice James led the way once again with her fourth-place finish, with a time of 15:59. Brooke Higgs was close behind, taking fifth, in 16:06. Mary Edwards (16:22) and Jessica Graham (16:31) finished sixth and seventh, respectively, with Kim Bergen finishing out the scoring quintet with a 16th place finish in 17:06.
The Lady Hornets went to the front in a pack and all five of the scorers were close together through the mile mark. Bergen faded back in the second mile, but the top four stayed close together up until the final quarter-mile sprint.
“Today, the Lady Hornets put on an awesome display of how to win a cross country meet,” declared Bryant coach Danny Westbrook. “These ladies seem to put on a clinic every week. They are not only great runners but they are students of the sport and they’ve learned how to win. To put our top five in the top 16 places out of 202 runners is pretty impressive.
“We still need to work on decreasing some of our gaps but we are improving every week,” Westbrook added. “Other than our top five girls, I was extremely pleased with Nicole Sample and Nicole Snyder. They both had outstanding races today and helped the team score by beating some of our opposing team’s fifth runners.”
Sample ran a 17:27 to finish 20th. Snyder was 23rd in 17:42.
The senior boys race was paced by defending State champion Russellville with 33 points. The Hornets were led by Zach Roberson who finished 33rd in a time of 18:29. Cody Walker was 60th in 19:07 with Josh Wright taking 63rd in 19:11. Bryan Ballew (69th in 19:19) and Mark Pagan (76th in 19:26) finished out Bryant’s scoring.
“This may well go down in history as the largest cross country field ever in the history of Arkansas cross country,” declared Bryant coach Bodie Nance. “I was pleased with our performance overall. Zach had a good day and so did Josh and Bryan. Michael Parker had his best effort of the season.
“I like the attitude and work ethic of this group,” Nance continued. “I think we will be ready to race at our peak at state in four weeks.”
In the junior boys race, Blakley ran with the lead pack throughout the first mile, then surged to the lead, winning with a time of 10:34. He wound up beating Russellville’s James Roach, who was second, by 10 meters. Roach had edged Blakley the week before at Russellville.
The Mustangs finished with 54 points behind only Russellville (40 points) and Lake Hamilton (46).
Bryant’s Chris Robinson finished close behind the two leaders, taking third in 10:56. The Mustangs’ scoring group also included Allen Trotter (11th, 11:13), Andrew Linder (21st, 11:45) and Robert Graham (26th, 11:53).
“I thought Ethan and Chris did an awesome job today,” Nance said. “Ethan got the win in a two-man duel that was priceless. There is just no quit in him. Each week he is always willing to lay it on the line for this team. Chris came roaring up for 3rd this week from five or six places back. He will be moved up to the high school at Conway and I look for him to contribute right away. All these guys work extremely hard and it is paying dividends in the meets.”
Mikki Eichenberg led the Lady Mustangs, finishing 11th in a time of 9:55. Samantha Montgomery also secured a top 20 finish, taking 15th in 10:02. Sarah James, Jessica Sowell and Cari Odle were close. James was 22nd in 10:18, Sowell 24th in 10:22 and Odle 25th in 10:23.
Russellville won the junior girls competition with 39 points, one better than Lake Hamilton. Bryant was third with 81 points.
“Our junior girls need to realize that they have three of their classmates running for our high school team,” said Westbrook of the disappointed Lady Mustangs. “If Mary Edwards, Kim Bergen, and Nicole Snyder were running junior high races, I’m certain our team score would be improved. The fact that we are still contending in the junior girls team competitions without them says a lot for our depth. I thought Jessica Sowell, who was one of our top five scorers for the first time, had a great race today.”