Since early July, a large group of the Mansfield cross country runners have been training for the start of the 2018 competitive racing season. With the cooperation of cooling temperatures and ideal running conditions, 27 members of the Tiger distance team toed the line for the schedule’s first meet.
Eager to run and put behind the strain of hot weather practices, the Tigers collectively rocked the small school division of the Fort Smith Invitational on Saturday morning at Ben Geren Park. With 41% of the team members landing on the medal stand and earning three team trophies, it was a highly productive day to be a MHS runner.
Mansfield’s junior and senior girls both won the small school championship plaques. The junior boy’s squad carried home the runner-up team prize. The senior men with only two competitors didn’t qualify as a team for awards.
“Eleven medals and three trophies is a pretty good haul for the first time out,” beamed an excited John Mackey, Mansfield’s long time head coach. “The heat has been brutal physically and mentally during practice these last two months. It can really wear on you. I’m so proud the majority of our kids persevered the training, and found the fun in running for a real purpose today.”
Senior Alyssa Berry and newcomer Josefin Lofving led the way for the senior high Lady Tigers. The senior and junior respectively landed in the top ten for the 3.1 mile course.
Berry crossed fourth (28:01.10) in the small school division. Lofving landed in ninth (29:28.80).
Faith Rainwater, a freshman, stormed the 2 mile junior high loop with the top time (14:50.70) in the class 1A-3A grouping. She was supported in droves by a sea of red clad teammates racking up six more of the available top ten medals.
Rainwater along with McKenzie Griffin (15:28.10), Shelby Cole (15:36.00), and Jadelynn Wood (15:39.20) made it a top four sweep for the junior Lady Tigers. Harleigh Mars (6th place), Hope Rainwater (7th place), and Raine Hecox (9th place) saturated the remaining top ten to give Mansfield seven junior girl medals.
Mansfield’s junior girls team easily won their grouping with only slight challenges from Magazine, Lavaca, Scranton, Hector, and Western Yell County.
Tigers Ethan Chapman and Steven Perez showed they are among the best junior boys regardless of classification. The two ninth graders went out strong and seldom wavered from a six minute mile pace. The results netted Chapman his first individual championship (12:07.60) and gave Perez a razor close second place (12:09:00) in their division.
The dynamic duo were step for step among the overall leaders from the start of the 183 person race. In fact, among the total 1A-6A rankings the Tiger pair were ninth and tenth. Chapman was only 32.6 seconds away from the overall winner’s position.
“These two have real talent,” confessed Mackey when singing the praises of his two young runners. “It’s my job to test their limits. I’m happy it paid off for them today. It’s so much fun watching them run for the Tigers.”
In the senior boy’s race, Artem Zirka (12th place) and Renden Emery (20th place) of Mansfield gave a solid account of themselves. The first time distance runners finished well ahead of the majority in the small school stats but not quite in the elite of the overall scoring pack.
“Artem and Renden saw what was necessary to compete at this level,” expressed the coach. “It was a good learning experience. I’m happy that had a margin of success their first time out. It gives them a real baseline to work from. They will make strong gains throughout the season.”
Mansfield’s overall roster was bolstered by other first time runners. From the senior high group Sara Willadsen and Janna Colin made their debuts. Anina Reutter, another newcomer, was dressed but did not participate due to a foot injury.
At the junior high level Darby Jones, Lauren Poston, Alyssa James, Heidi Ebarb, Eden Mounts, John Branche, Mikeal Harrison, and Logan Yoss all competed at their first meet.
Addison Goetz was a returning member of the senior girls team. The eleventh grade runner was within one place of medaling among the small school rankings at the Ben Geren venue.
Lita Hecox and Ashton Hinkle returned as members of their respective junior high squads. Both are eighth graders competing in their second season of cross country.
Keith Dake, Mansfield’s head basketball coach during the winter months, made his debut as a member of the MHS cross country coaching staff. As an assistant coach, his main responsibilities include supervision of the after school weight training, and monitor of recovery runs, core exercise routines, post workout stretches, as well as game day supervisor.