Ballew leads Hornets to Invitational title
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In a dramatic finish, Bryant senior Bryan Ballew was caught and passed at the last second by two-time defending Class AAAA State champion Quincy Googe of Little Rock Fair, who earned the individual medalist nod at the annual Bryant Invitational at Mills Park on Saturday, Sept. 20.
But Ballew’s effort helped the Hornets win the team championship. The Hornets paced the field of 14 teams including perennial Class AAAAA power Russellville, combining for 36 points to the Cyclones’ 58. Cabot was third with 96.
Googe finished less than a second ahead of Ballew, turning in a 16:58.91 to Ballew’s 16:59.21.
All five of Bryant’s scoring group finished in the top 20, including four in the top eight. Freshman Ethan Blakley, running his first high school race, finished fourth overall with a time of 17:28. Zach Roberson was sixth in 17:47 and Steven Bright took eighth in 17:52. Chris Robinson completed the scoring quintet, turning in an 18:10, good for 16th.
Four other Bryant runners broke the 20-minute barrier and finished in the top 40 in the 154-runner competition. Adam Schneider was 27th in 19:22, Tino Kretschmer 33rd in 19:36, Zach Williams 37th in 19:42 and Andrew Linder 38th in 19:42.
In addition, Bryant’s Allen Trotter ran a 20:30 and Zach Barnes a 21:19.
“It would have been great if Bryan could have held on for the individual title,” commented Hornets head coach Steve Oury. “But I think he still gained a lot from the experience and will be able to draw on this race in the future. He is setting personal records for cross-country races just about every week, so each race is a step into uncharted waters for him. He just needs to trust his strength and not be afraid to push the pace.”
“I started a little bit too slow again,” Ballew acknowledged. “I came through the two-mile at about 11:10. That’s 10 seconds over 17 flat so I ended up running the last mile pretty hard to get under 17. It’s a good time for this course. It’s not an easy course. Coach had been telling me all week I needed to go under 17 but I didn’t know if I would do it going through the two-mile that slow. I ended up having a strong race. I was pretty satisfied with my time, I guess.”
Concerning Googe’s kick at the end, Ballew added, “I knew he was coming. I knew he had a strong kick. I tried to cut him off at the end but I couldn’t get him. He barely got me.”
“This was obviously an excellent performance for all of our athletes,” Oury commented. “I couldn’t be prouder of the way the guys ran, from top to bottom. We saw dramatic improvement over last weeks times. Winning our home meet over such quality competition can only help our confidence and inspire us to continue the hard work that it takes to be successful at the state level. This group of kids is capable of some special things. Today’s performance should give us some encouragement that we are on the right path.”
Individually, Oury added, “Ethan ran a very smart race and finished with a nice blast of speed. Zach Roberson came through in a big way for us, setting a personal record in the process. Steven Bright was disappointed with himself, but I certainly wasn’t. He likes to be aggressive and go out hard. Sometimes that strategy may backfire, but it’s a good way to test yourself. Steven will be extremely tough by state meet time.
“Chris Robinson had one of the most dramatic improvements from last week,” added the coach. “He sliced 77 seconds off in one week, which was huge for us. Our time gap from first to fifth was 71 seconds, which is over a minute better than last week. Ultimately we need it to be less than a minute, which I feel certain will happen before the year is over.”
The Hornets run in the UALR Invitational this Saturday.
“We will see some other outstanding teams from the area,” Oury noted, “so we may have to step it up even more if we want to win two in a row.”
The Junior Hornets, running without Blakley, still managed a third place finish, led by the performances of Justin Hefner and Alvin Rapien. Hefner finished third overall with a time of 11:52. Rapien was close behind at 11:53, finishing fourth.
Sheridan won the team title with 56 points followed by Lake Hamilton with 63. Bryant finished with 79. Eleven Teams and 132 runners competed in the event.
The Junior Hornets’ top five also included Ben Higgs (16th in 12:39), Tyler O’Neal (20th in 13:03) and Jeremy Accord (36th in 13:29).
“I thought the junior boys did a pretty good job of stepping up without Ethan to lead the way,” Oury mentioned. “The time gap from first to fifth was a little more than we need, but I was pleased with the overall effort and was glad to see Justin and Alvin battling it out in the top five. Hopefully, we can have some guys step up and give them a little company before the year is over.”
Also for the Junior Hornets, Will Wilson ran 13:35, Preston Adami 13:52, Billy Stanford 14:14, Robert Fluharty 14:37, Ben Griffin 15:27 and Nick Pultro 15:31.