Lady Hornets nab league 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
BENTON — Next stop: State.
The Bryant Lady Hornets, ranked No. 1 in Arkansas almost the entire cross country season, continued to be unbeaten by teams in the state and captured their first AAAAA-Central Conference championship at the league’s post-season meet at Longhills Golf Club on Thursday, Oct. 31.
In the boys division, Conway won the league title as expected but Bryant battled past Little Rock Catholic to earn the runner-up trophy.
Both Bryant teams advance to the Class AAAAA State Championship meet at Oaklawn Park on Saturday, Nov. 9.
The Lady Hornets placed all five scoring runners in the top 10, prevailing with just 22 points, though they were challenged by an improved Mount St. Mary’s team that, led by individual champion Ashley Williams, finished second with 33 points.
The Lady Hornets used the same pack-attack strategy they have all season and surged to the front of the race right from the start coming through the first mile in 6:10. Letting Williams pull away, the Lady Hornets maintained the team lead most of the race from there. However, as they neared the finish line, a pack of Mount St. Mary’s runners began closing in and Bryant had to make a mad dash for the line to seal the victory.
Bryant’s lead trio of Candice James (2nd), Mary Edwards (3rd) and Brooke Higgs (4th) all crossed the finish line within four seconds of each other. Jessica Graham held off Lizzie Phillips of Mount St. Mary’s to take fifth place and Kim Bergen finished ninth.
“Our top three, I know we did what we were supposed to,” said James, the lone senior on the team, following the race. “Most of our girls were in front of (Mount St. Mary’s) second runner. I’m happy with it. This was the first time we’ve run this course. There was really only one hill and we did really well. We had good times at the two-mile mark.
James, the team’s lead runner all season, was optimistic about the State meet. “The rest of the girls are getting closer to me,” she said. “They’re getting better, I can tell. They’re ready for next week.”
All of Bryant’s scoring five were named all-conference.
Three other members of the team received top 20 trophies. Nicole Sample finished 13th with Mikki Eichenberg 15th and Nicole Snyder 16th. Cari Odle finished 23rd.
“Putting our top five runners in the top 10 places was really great,” said head coach Danny Westbrook. “There was no room for error because Mount St. Mary’s was breathing down our neck right from the start. Mary Edwards had a great race and proved to herself that she can run with Candice and Brooke. Jessica Graham did a good job of holding off a girl at the finish and Kim Bergen put in another great effort.
“Winning the conference title was one of our team goals at the first of the season and it feels good to achieve it,” Westbrook added.
In the boys competition, Conway was the prohibitive favorite going in and performed that way with a final total of just 17 points. Conway freshman Raven Fuller was the individual champion and the Wampus Cats placed five runners in the top six missing a perfect score only because Little Rock Hall’s Alvin Irby finished fourth.
Second place was up for grabs.
“We set a goal for ourselves to, at least, take the runner-up trophy home,” noted Hornets coach Bodie Nance.
And that’s just what they did, finishing with 59 points to edge Catholic (71 points).
Senior Cody Walker led the way, earning all-conference honors with a 7th place finish overall. Senior Mark Pagan surged late in the race to finish 11th just ahead of junior Zach Roberson (12th). Freshman Chris Robinson stepped up for a 14th place finish and junior Bryan Ballew completed the scoring quintet with a 15th-place finish. Josh Wright (16th), Michael Parker (17th), and Zack Williams (20th) also garnered top 20 trophies. Freshman Andrew Linder was 23rd.
“It was beautiful,” commented Walker. “I think the course was a little short but we ran great. Coach Nance told us to go out in about 5:40 and we went out about that pace. We tried to not so much go out fast and get an oxygen debt but to just stay smooth and stay focused on what our goals were today. And we achieved them.”
“Today we had a group of guys who had a goal in mind and they just would not be denied,” commented Nance. “They really wanted that conference runner-up trophy and went out and earned it. I thought Cody had a great race and Mark Pagan came out of nowhere to surge up to be our second man. Zach, Chris and Bryan had to hold off Catholic’s fourth runner to assure us the runner-up spot.”
Both Bryant coaches extended their gratitude to Bud Buskin and Jeff Hamm for allowing the meet to be held on the Longhills course.