Westbrook seeks a pack mentality in girls cross country this season

As long as Danny Westbrook has been coaching cross country — 2014 will be his 34th year — he’s preached pack running. He’s had great runners that could stay among the leaders like Melinda Murdock in 2013 but, if the rest of his charges couldn’t stay there with that lead runner, he wanted them grouped as close as they could get to them.

It’s a smart strategy in cross country, minimizing gaps and maximizing points.

As his Bryant Lady Hornets prepared for the intrasquad meet this evening at Bishop Park, which annually kicks off a new season, he recalled a tactic he once used to great effect to emphasize the importance of pack running.

“The group I had back in the early ‘80’s that was so good I actually tied them together to promote pack running,” he related. “We’d go out and do mile repeats and I’d tie them together with football belts.

“I’ve threatened to do that with this group,” he added, referring to his 2014 team. “We haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’ll see how we do that first meet. If we don’t pack like I want to, that may happen. That’s what we’re going to have to do to be successful.”

The team’s official opening meet is set for Western Hills Park in Little Rock on Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Arkansas Army National Guard Invitational.

“This group, we don’t really have someone like Melinda that’s going to front run,” Westbrook acknowledged. “Of course, I may be surprised. You never know.

“But you don‘t replace a Melinda Murdock,” he said. “That’s for sure. Not only her athletic ability but just sheer leadership. But a couple of seniors have kind of stepped up, Caitlyn Bell and Talyn Billins. They’re really working hard. They had a really good summer. I look for good things out of them.”

“We’re not very deep so we’re going to have to stay healthy,” the coach mentioned. “Probably our third runner right now is Hannah Shelby. She’s kind of set in that spot. Then fourth and fifth would be sophomores Rachel Curtis and Sydney Wilson. Senior Lauren Ackley had a very good summer. She’ll be vying for a top five spot.

“I have a couple of twins that are running well, Alanna and Alyssa Cordova,” he continued. “They’re looking pretty good in practice.”

The varsity also includes Emma Barnes, Melissa Barrientos, Kaylee Butler, Grace Byars, Hunter Delaney, Jordan Duval, Madelyn Elswick, Katherine Goins, Katie Higgs, Keilynn Lee, Esmeralda Limon, Katie Lynch, Joceline Roman, Frida Ruiz, Reagan Smith and Valerie Topete.

“Maybe we’ll have some freshmen step up,” Westbrook said. “Lauren Hart really had a good summer, worked hard over the summer and came in in great shape. She’s looking really good.”

The freshmen also include Katelyn Blacklaw, Camryn Bolton, Erin Chappell, Carissa Colclasure, Amber Edwards, Katlee Freasier, Emily Gallegos, Sara Gonzales, Gracen Goudy, Jessica Hall, Cloe Humphry, Flora Noble, Alexander Roach, Keeli Robertson, Alyssa Rowland, Tess Sullivan, Kaylin Watts, Taylor Wilson and Litzy Zavala.

“The intrasquad meet, it’s a dress rehearsal, just to get them in uniform, out there to toe the line,” Westbrook said. “Sometimes you have people step up. Some people that don’t show you anything in practice then, when the lights come on, they step up. So, we’ll see.”

Asked if he’d like for some nice surprises, the coach responded, “That’d be awesome.”

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