By Rob Patrick
With the influx of some impressive young talent and a couple of surprises, Bryant Lady Hornets cross country coach Dan Westbrook is guardedly optimistic about the 2009 edition of the team.
The Lady Hornets and the rest of the cross country program, from seventh grade to 12th, will compete among each other in the annual intrasquad meet at Mills Park on Thursday, Aug. 27, at 5:30, the unofficial start to their season.
Because of the number of runners in the program (around 175), they will be split up into three teams instead of two this year to run the two-mile course at the park with Sonic gift coupons to the members of the winning team.
Asked what the prospects for the team are this year, Westbrook quipped, “Ask me Friday.
“I think Thursday will tell us a lot and, actually, the way it’s worked out, our meet on Sept. 15 will be our first actual competition against other teams and we’ll know a lot more after that,” he added.
Usually, Bryant has opened the season at the OBU Invitational but, Westbrook explained, that meet was moved back a week placing it too close to the date for the Bryant Invitational and the Conway Invitational that Bryant will attend on Saturday, Sept. 19.[more]
“It’ll be interesting,” he commented. “I know the talent’s there.”
Dylan Vail returns for her junior season after leading the Lady Hornets last season, earning a 10th-place finish at the 7A-Central Conference meet with a personal-best time of 20:51. She was also the top Bryant finisher at the Class 7A State meet in 27th place.
“She’s done what she needed to do over the summer and came back in good shape,” Westbrook noted.
“But we’re going to be young,” he added. “Right now, if I had to pick a top five, probably three or four of them would actually be sophomores and one of them might be a freshman.”
Those sophomores would be Stacy Emmerling, Ashlyn Lessenberry, Kaitlin Nickels and Skylar Oswalt. The freshman is Hannah Raney.
The team includes seniors Sarah Brooks, Jordan Chadwick, Maria Christman, Samantha Cyz, Courtney Hodge, Karlee Porter, Kayla Randolph, Morgan Seelinger, Jessica Shepard and Katrina Ragsdale.
Of that group, Westbrook said, “Jordan was the State champion in the 400 meters in the spring and she’s also a hurdler. That’s sort of a strange combination but it just shows what kind of heart she has. Courtney Hodge is another senior who’s in our top group along with Katrina Ragsdale who just came into the program. She’s been here but she just hasn’t been running. She’s been a pleasant surprise.”
The juniors on the team include Bailey Freyaldenhoven, Stephanie Friemel, Natalie Graham, Kari Henderson, Morgan Humbard, Lauren Rogers, Bailee Seelinger, Kaytlyn Stracener, Stacie Waite and Vail.
“Another girl that has been here but just came into the program is Lauren Rogers,” Westbrook mentioned. “And she’s going to help us. That’s two pleasant surprises.”
The sophomores are Emmerling, Gracy Finley, Sydney Hall, Charlie Hunnicutt, Jahaira Juarez, Lessenberry, Nichols, Oswalt and Bethany Smith.
Raney, Westbrook said, will probably run with the varsity from the start.
“Last year, the only 5K she ran, she ran faster than any high school girl we had and that was as an eighth grader at the Chili Pepper (in Fayetteville),” he noted. “She’s a pretty hard worker and has a lot of talent.
“There are some other freshman that may have a chance to move up later in the year,” Westbrook added.
“We’ve got 30 on the high school team,” he added. “We’ve got good depth there, you just hope some of the other girls can step up. There’s several that have a shot at helping us.”
The freshman team will include Skylar Combs, Stephanie Cyz, Ashton Eley, Jade Hampton, Megan Harris, Becca Henderson, Raegan Norris, Savannah Reep, Tara Shewmaker, Lauren Stiles and Maddi Wells.
“Right now, I’d have to say the top five are Tara Shewmaker, Lauren Stiles, Ashton Eley, Stephanie Cyz and Maddi Wells,” Westbrook stated. “They’ve kind of established themselves. Along with Hannah, who I don’t really consider junior high, we’ve got a strong freshman group.
“We’ve got great coaches at the middle school, Rhonda Hall at Bethel and Angel Dale at Bryant,” he noted. “They are great recruiters and they work hard and that’s all you can ask for. That’s just going to help our high school program down the road.”
Hall’s eighth grade team includes Marley Adams, Kat Bolton, Haylee Campbell, Morgan Dreher, Megan Hodge, Sam Macchi, Paola Marrero, Taylor McKnight, Adrienne Merriott, Tori Moore, Kayla Nickels, Randie Owens, Santana Turnbough and Ashleigh Wofford.
Dale’s eight grade squad includes Rachel Bacon, Katy Davis, Mikayla Douglas, Kyanne Lawrence, Miranda Pelzel, Kathleen Stalter, Shelby Woodall, Janna Wilson and Kimberly Mayfield.
The Bethel seventh grade group includes Carley Cato, Caroline Cato, Nikki Clay, Samantha Hill, Rachael Owens, Rachel Phillips, Rose Railey, Joee Richey, Mattison Werner and Sarah White.
For Bryant, the seventh grade runners are Lauren Ackley, Emily Ball, Lindsey Butler, Jerrica Gray, Josie Hill, Kathleen Napoles, Madison Rhodes, Briana Rutherford, Emma Shock and Kayla Yarberry.
“It’s a really good group,” Westbrook concluded. “It’s a really fun group. They work hard but they’re high school girls. They’re fun to be around. They joke a lot and stuff. I really like this group.”