Lady Hornets perfect for 4th straight title
EDITOR’S NOTE: Because the look back at each day in Bryant athletic history has been so favorably received during the time when there was no sports during the COVID-19 shutdown, BryantDaily.com will continueposting past stories of Bryant athletics either posted on BryantDaily.com (from 2009 to the present) or published in the Bryant Times (from 1998 to 2008).
By ROB PATRICK
In a dominating performance in which they garnered eight of the top 10 spots, the Bryant Lady Hornets posted a perfect score and won their fourth consecutive AAAAA-Central Conference cross country championship at Mills Park on Thursday.
Senior Mary Edwards led the pack as Bryant swept the top six places. All nine Lady Hornets runners turned in personal best times on the Mills Park 5K course with just 29 seconds separating their five scoring runners.
Mount St. Mary’s runners garnered the other two top 10 finishes but finished a distant second in the team standings with 54 points to Bryant’s perfect 15. Conway was third with 73.
“We did really good and I expected that,” Edwards said. “We wanted to go out there and have our top five really pack together and get those top five places.”
Nicole Darland, who won the individual conference championship as a freshman last year, pushed Edwards to the end. Edwards’ time was 20:43, Darland’s was 20:44. Senior Kim Bergen was right there as well, finishing third in 20:50, followed by freshman Brittany Hairston at 21:10, senior Jessica Sowell at 21:12 and Chelsea Mansfield at 21:24.
Mount St. Mary’s Jordan Taylor finished seventh in 21:33 just edging out Bryant’s Amber Westbrook (21:35) and Lennon Bates (21:39).
All top 10 finishers earned all-conference honors. M’Kenna Moore, Bryant’s ninth runner, just missed out on making it a clean sweep. She was 12th with a time of 22:18.
“I was really proud of Mary Edwards,” said head coach Danny Westbrook. “She has had a great career here at Bryant and that was a great way to run her last race on her home course. I thought Nicole gave a valiant effort in defense of her 2004 title. It was a duel ‘til the finish. Kim did a great job of hanging with Mary and Nicole all the way ‘til the final sprint.
“I was especially proud of how we packed so well through most of the race,” added the coach. “They could have ‘tanked it’ after the first mile and still finished the same, but they tried to work our strategy even though there were no other teams anywhere in sight. We know we will have to pack run and minimize our gaps at State to have any remote chance at a trophy, so this was a dress rehearsal for that. They did a really good job.”
The State meet will be held at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs on Saturday, Nov. 5. The girls race will begin at 1:45 p.m. The Lady Hornets enter ranked third in the state behind Bentonville and Rogers.
“If we can have the same effort we had at conference at State, we should be in the thick of things,” Westbrook asserted. “I believe there are clearly five top teams in AAAAA girls. Any one of those teams could finish first or fifth. On paper, Rogers and Bentonville are clear favorites simply because of what they did at Chile Pepper and the sheer talent they have. Fayetteville, Russellville, and Bryant all have the talent to contend if either of those top two teams falter at all.”
Westbrook pointed to a new training regimen as a factor in the Lady Hornets’ success late this season.
“I can see that delaying our speed work until later in the season is paying off,” he said. “All the girls seemed to feel fast.”
That was part of the reason the Lady Hornets faltered at the Chile Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, the only time this season, they faced the northwest Arkansas squads.
“We have talked a lot since Chile Pepper about simply running up to our potential, which everyone agreed we did not do at Chile Pepper,” Westbrook said. “I thought today we did run to our potential.
“Due to our performance at Chile Pepper, we are not on anyone’s radar,” he continued. “We don’t have the pressure that Rogers and Bentonville do. Our strategy is going to be to stay loose, pack run, minimize our gaps, give it our best, and just see what happens. I just want us to run to our potential like we did at conference. If we do that we can have no regrets no matter where we finish.”