Bryant breezes to team title behind Higgs
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After finishing second the last two years, Bryant senior Brooke Higgs, in her last chance, nabbed the top spot at the annual Bryant Invitational, her team’s lone home meet each season, on Saturday, Sept. 18, at Mills Park.
Higgs, one of the top cross country runners in the state for the last three years, ran the 5k course in 20:48 as she and her teammates nearly posted a perfect score while winning the team title with ease in the 12-team event.
Jessica Sowell was second in 21:13 and Chelsea Mansfield was third in 21:15. Kim Bergen finished fifth in 22:13 and Nicole Sample, with a late push to pass several runners, took sixth with a time of 22:22. Only El Dorado’s Kayla Waldrup, who was fourth, broke up the Lady Hornets’ scoring quintet.
“It’s a great feeling,” Higgs said. “It feels great to have your home crowd here cheering you in when you’re in first place. It’s just a great feeling. But I could not have done it without my girls. They mean the world to me. They are so important.”
“Our senior girls put on a clinic today on how to win a cross country meet,” said head coach Danny Westbrook. “Our racing philosophy here is to go to the front at the start, stay there, and finish there. We definitely did that today.
“I thought it was great for Brooke to win the individual title and the team title at her home meet her senior year,” added the coach. “She ran a great time on a very difficult course today.
“It went smoothly but it was just really hot,” Higgs said. “It was good that our course is in the shade a little bit. But we have a hilly course which is tough. It’s actually really good for you to run. It’s good training.”
Higgs’ time is technically a new course record. Actually, it’s the first time the girls have run a 5k course in the event. The girls distance for cross country increased from 4k this season.
“On a 4k, you can go kind of fast but, on a 5k, you really have to pace yourself or you’re just going to die,” Higgs commented.
Westbrook was proud of the whole squad.
“Jessica and Chelsea are the heart of this team,” he said. “They are just so consistent. I can count on them giving their all every week. I was especially proud of Kim Bergen today. She showed some real fortitude by running up front and finishing where she did. I also thought Nicole and Michelle Ford ran good races today.”
Ford may have finished out of the scoring for Bryant but she finished in the top 20, running a 23:36. Sarah James was 24th in 24:19 and Sam Montgomery was 46th in 28:25.
The Lady Hornets finished with just 17 points despite the fact that junior Mary Edwards, usually their No. 2 finisher, remained sidelined with a leg injury, as well as Cecily Davis.
Russellville was a distant second with 120 points.
Bryant junior girls scored nearly as well, finishing with 20 points to win their division. Cabot North was second with 76, a point better than Beebe in the 10-team competition.
Though Mena’s Cami Collier took individual honors, running a 13:12, Bryant swept the next four spots. Lennon Bates was second in 13:28, Nicole Darland third in 13:29, Brittany Hairston fourth in 13:35, and Amber Westbrook fifth in 13:40. Sara Coker completed Bryant’s scoring group, finishing 13th in 14:08.
“Our junior girls team is undefeated and they are still learning the strategies of racing,” Westbrook noted. “I am extremely pleased with their progress. I think their performances the last two weeks proves the future of our girls’ cross country program is very bright. Besides our top 5, I thought Lola Fleming, Sam Wirzfeld, and Mikayla Speake all had great races today.”
Those three finished in the top 20. Fleming was 16th in 14:19, Wirzfeld 18th in 14:42 and Speake 19th in 14:44.
In addition, Melanie Bergen was 24th in 14:56 with M’Kenna Moore right with her, finishing 25th in 15:01. Sarah Finley’s 16:00 time was good for 35th, followed by Martha Swaty (16:25), Christen Kirchner (16:25), Sarah Davis (16:59), Paula Barrientos (17:06), Lori Williams (17:17), Kimberly Womack (17:46), Tiffany Rogers (17:57), Leslie Walker (17:57), Taylor Henley (18:00), Briana Ginn (18:01) and Mellanie Johnson (18:22).