Hosts plenty tough at Bryant meet
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).
The weather was great and so were the results when the Bryant cross country teams hosted their only home meet of the season, the annual Bryant Invitational at Mills Park on Saturday, Sept. 21.
Bryant teams won three of the four competitions with the Hornets finishing second in the senior boys race. The Lady Hornets, ranked No. 1 in the state, secured five of the top six spots and came close to a perfect score with 18 points. The Lady Mustangs, meanwhile, were indeed able to post a perfect score with its scoring quintet finishing 1 through 5 individually. The junior boys placed six runners in the top 10, finishing with 18 points as well.
Individually, Bryant runners won three of the four races. Senior Candice James led the Lady Hornets, pacing the field wire-to-wire and finishing with a time of 16:11. Cari Odle won the junior girls race with a time of 7:55 and Ethan Blakley won the junior boys race with a time of 11:26.
The Hornets’ leading runner was Cody Walker who finished fourth in a time of 18:24.
The Lady Hornets used their “pack attack” strategy to perfection as they packed five of their runners at the front of the race through the first half of the four-kilometer course. If not for the late surge from Kristen Kennerly of Magnet Cove to break up their pack, the Bryant girls would have secured the coveted perfect score. Kennerly led Magnet Cove to a second-place finish with 42 points.
Brooke Higgs continued her string of top 10 finishes by holding off Kennerly for second. She ran a 16:14. Jessica Graham, who ran step for step with James and Higgs until the last stretch of the race, took fourth place in 16:21. Freshmen Mary Edwards (16:38) and Kim Bergen (16:51) rounded out the top five scorers finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Nicole Sample (ninth in 17:51), Tonya Fowler (12th, 18:35), and Jamie Waldron (14th, 18:58) also received top 15 trophies.
“Our game plan for this meet was to go to the front from the start, stay there, and finish there,” said Lady Hornets coach Danny Westbrook. “Very seldom does it work out that your pre-race plans work so well, but these ladies made it work today. We had an amazing 40-second gap between our first and fifth runners today. That is going to win you the team title in most meets. They are really learning the keys to be successful in this sport. This group of young ladies is smart, competitive, and works hard.
“I was really happy that Candice won the individual title today,” Westbrook added. “Since she is a senior, this was her last Bryant Invitational and she capped it off in grand style. Jessica Finley also showed a big improvement and had a great race today.”
The Hornets placed three of their top five runners in the top 15 to take the team runner-up trophy with 82 points. Zach Roberson joined Walker in the top 10, finishing eighth in a time of 18:38. Wright was 15th in 20:07. Bryan Ballew and Mark Pagan completed Bryant’s scoring group. Both were clocked at 20:07, placing 28th and 29th, respectively.
Little Rock Lutheran, the top-ranked AA school, won the team title with 70 points. Little Rock Catholic which came into the meet ranked eighth in the state as a Class AAAAA school, finished third with 87 points.
“What a day!” declared Hornets coach Bodie Nance. “We finish second overall and each man improved by at least one minute over his intrasquad times a month ago. We’ll just need to remain focused and make the same improvement during the next month and who knows what can happen at state.
“Cody ran a great race — he looked really strong and smooth all the way,” Nance added. “Zach Roberson had another great performance. Josh, Bryan, and Mark did a great job for us today. Zach Williams knocked four minutes off his previous best on this course.”
Williams was clocked at 21:05, finishing 46th.
The Hornets and Lady Hornets will head to Mountain Home on Saturday, Sept. 28, for the Mountain Home Invitational. The Lady Hornets should see some strong competition from the home team, Westbrook mentioned, as Mountain Home’s girls are currently ranked 5th in the state rankings.
“I have been picking Mountain Home as No. 1 since the beginning of the season,” he added. “They were state runner-up last year and have everybody back. I think it will be a close race.”
“I hear it is a fast course,” Nance mentioned, “so we will look forward to another good race as we make our drive to state.”
Using the same “pack attack” strategy as the senior girls, the Lady Mustangs claimed the top five places to achieve the elusive perfect score of 15. Magnet Cove finished runner-up with 90 points.
Odle won the individual title with a strong sustained surge in the last half mile. Nicole Snyder (8:03) was second, Samantha Montgomery (8:04) third, Mikki Eichenberg (8:09) fourth and eighth grader Sarah James (8:11) fifth. Eichenberg and Sarah James had to hold off a strong surge from Megan O’Neal of Hamburg to secure their positions.
The Lady Mustangs placed three other runners in the top 10. Jessie Sutton (8:32), Bryanna Austin (8:35) and Lindsay Aldridge (8:37) finished eighth through 10th, respectively. Tori Dunn (8:52) was 14th and also received a top 15 trophy.
“This is the first perfect score we have accomplished since we started the junior high program four years ago,” Westbrook noted. “Our top five girls had a time gap of only 16 seconds and that is pretty amazing.
“Cari did a great job leading the pack today,” he added. “We have actually had a different race leader in each of our three meets, which tells you how much talent we have on this team. Some of these talented freshmen will definitely have their opportunity to help the high school girls’ team go for the state title at the end of the season. They’ll keep running junior high races for a while, but if they can help our high school at the end of the year they will be moved up.”
The Mustangs put nine runners in the top 15 places to capture their first meet championship of the season, out-distancing runner-up Lakeside by 40 points.
Eighth grader Ethan Blakley took the lead from the start and never relinquished it as he took the individual title with a time of 11:26. Allen Trotter took the runner-up spot holding off two opposing runners at the finish, clocking in at 11:50. Robert Graham (12:14) finished fifth, Chris Robinson (12:20) was sixth, and Andrew Linder, returning after two weeks off due to illness, came in seventh (12:22) to finish out Bryant’s scorers.
Also receiving top 15 trophies were Justin Hefner (9th, 12:29), Adam Schneider (12th, 12:55), Ryan Hill (13th 12:55), and Jeremy Acord (15th, 13:00).
“The Mustangs had a great day,” Nance declared. “These guys continue to amaze me. They all work so hard. Our top eight runners were all under 13 minutes.
“We have a showdown with Lake Hamilton in two weeks at Russellville,” Nance mentioned. “We are looking forward to the challenge of running down the Wolves. I believe we have the best team and I can’t wait until we have our strongest team together to race against them.”
Lake Hamilton has narrowly defeated the Mustangs in two previous meetings.