On the credit side, Mansfield’s cross country program returns talent with high level credentials. On the debit side, the Tiger team of long distance runners will be fewer in total numbers as compared to recent years.
What stands out for the Tiger running program is the fact that nearly every runner that began preseason team training this past week holds star quality. A glance at the senior girls roster alone shows this fact. Three of the team’s top five runners off of last season’s state runner-up team are back. Likewise, the junior boys also have three of their top five candidates in the fold.
What is lost is the extreme experience of an ultra-successful senior class of 2022. Five of Mansfield’s long distance seniors graduated from the Tiger program. All five were offered opportunities to run collegiately this upcoming season.
With the recent graduation departures, Mansfield seniority will be in small supply this year. The first few days of preseason workouts showed the oldest member of this season’s cross country squad will be senior Jadelynn Wood.
“Jadelynn (Wood) is ready for the role,” remarked veteran Mansfield coach John Mackey. “She knew this day was coming. She’s been preparing for this moment for a couple of years. Her credentials as a cross country runner and track star validate her new role within the team dynamics.”
Wood finished in 22nd place at last season’s state finals. That position figured into the team’s top five scoring as MHS secured their second consecutive state runner-up trophy for class 2A.
For her efforts during the 2021 season, Wood earned several postseason honors. Among those count All-District, All-Region, and River Valley All-Star recognition.
Following cross country season, Wood continued her athletic explosion. The highly touted 2023 senior offered enormous efforts for the indoor and outdoor track seasons. She earned All-State honors and was the Mansfield Track Player of the Year.
Jadelynn’s little sister, Laney, returns to the Wood pile as well. Younger in age by two school years, Laney Wood was the only Mansfield athlete to earn All-State honors in all three running sports (XC, Indoor, Outdoor). In cross country alone, she took home All-District, All-Region, and All-Star running awards.
Just a freshman last season, Laney impressed with a fifth place overall finish at the class 2A state cross country finals. The younger of the Wood sister act also earned All-State indoor and outdoor track honors to complete an incredible running year.
Joining the cross country company of Wood and Wood is sophomore Trinity Triska.
Triska is one of the three top returning distance runners for the Lady Tigers. She crossed just outside the All-State cutoff mark for the 2021 state championships. Her 14th place overall finish was third best on the Lady Tiger team featuring Mansfield All-State runners Laney Wood and Ouachita Baptist signee Darby Jones.
Triska was one of six Mansfield runners to earn All-District, All-Region, and RV All-Star last cross country season. Incredibly, she did so while simultaneously playing a full schedule for the school’s highly recognized volleyball program.
Joey (Fildes) Williams has returned as the Tiger men’s top runner. The defending 2A-4 District junior high individual champion will compete for the junior high squad again this year before moving up for his first state championship in November.
“Joey won the 1.5 mile junior high title in 8:38,” remembered Mackey. “He knows that the high school distance is much farther at 3.1 miles. His attention and preparation for the longer distance coming up at the end of the year will need to be in check all season long.”
Fellow freshman Jonah Martin and eighth grader Gunner Williams join Joey Williams as the highest returning starters for the Mansfield men.
Martin finished third overall at the 2A-4 District finals last year with a time of 9:19. It was his best performance of the season after a disappointing Regional run.
Gunner Williams, Joey’s brother, competed for the first time last season as a long distance racer. He also competed on the football team during the same time frame and is expected to do the same again this year.
Freshmen Joseph Carter and Braxton Bartlett, both All-District runners from a year ago, will play big roles on the high school team as the state championship nears. They will join the older Williams brother and sophomore Austin Ruiz on the high school team when their junior high season expires.
Ruiz is new to the cross country team joining workouts after a stellar track and field season. He was a multidimensional talent off the last two consecutive junior high conference track title teams.
Sophomore Addie Stover has practiced with the distance team during the first week of workouts. The dual sport volleyball player and All-State hurdler for the indoor track team finished in the top ten at the 2021 2A-4 Cross Country District. She moved up to the high school roster following an award winning junior high campaign.
Rylan Jones, a newcomer to the program, has had perfect attendance so far during preseason training. The seventh grader has shown real promise according to her coach’s assessment of the first three days of practice.
“You can tell Rylan did some individual training during the summer,” observed Mackey. “She came in and jumped from a beginner level to a level one runner within the first week. Once we see her pace workouts we’ll know what we have.”
Mackey said he expects others to join preseason camp in the coming days. He noted that some have yet to obtain updated physicals or have been away for typical summer excuses.
The coach said he wants to encourage others to join the award winning program especially the up and coming seventh graders.
At this moment cross country athletes have been practicing at 7 PM out of the high school storm shelter on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays. On Friday’s at 7 AM they take destination trips for practice and team bonding experiences.
Cross Country summer calendars show practices being conducted at the Mansfield City Lake Park. That typical routine recently changed due to road work being conducted at the Park’s entrance.
According to the coach, a return to the Lake is imminent but for now practices are more suited out of the storm shelter and surrounding campus.
Athletes new to the district or others wishing to join the cross country team should contact the high school for information.