Even the winner hurts. The message this week from Mansfield’s cross country coach emphasized that fact.
Paraphrased, his words basically stated the following. If you want your time to decrease, you must be aggressive. Don’t be afraid to attack the first mile. Muscle memory is going kick in a carry you to the finish. Be aggressive in the beginning when you’re fresh. That’s a recipe for shaving race time.
Message received. Plan installed. Results achieved.
“We’ve been leaving too much in the tank,” noted MHS distance coach John Mackey. “Our goal all week was to not be afraid to hurt in the first mile. Be aggressive and get ahead of the clock. Our kids took to the strategy and really performed well today.”
Eleven Tiger athletes toed the line for the start of the Van Buren 5k high school race on Saturday, October 19. All eleven had predetermined goals for the first mile. All eleven exceeded expectations for the first mile.
Ten of the eleven runners set new season bests at the finish line. The one that did not, suffered an ankle sprain during the competition but continued anyway to close within 14 seconds of her season best.
“It was a good day to say the least,” impressed Mackey. “Our players needed to trust were in shape. With the temperature dropping, it’s time to run fast and believe they can hold on. It may hurt, but even the winner hurts. They probably hurt more than anyone. So, it’s time to be aggressive. Conference and state are around the corner.”
McKenzie Griffin may have internalized the word as much as anyone in a Tiger uniform. The sophomore went out fast and kept the throttle down. She smashed her career best by 56 seconds and bettered her state finals time from a year ago by 1:10.
“The last couple of weeks McKenzie has been coming on strong,” stated her coach. “Her workouts have been going good and her confidence is growing.”
Griffin medal in ninth place with a time of 23:28.99. That was among the small school competitors. Her overall mark was the 23rd best among all women runners.
John Branche off the men’s team was another big mover in the personal record department. The tenth grader cut his previous best by 1:10. After crossing the first mile in a smidgin over six minutes, he crossed the carpet in 21:27.13.
Aston Hinkle, a freshman runner who moved to the high school team partway through the season, reduced his 5K catalog by 1:12. His Van Buren mark was 21:39.00.
With Renden Emery posting a 21:50.00 and Ethan Chapman going 19:59.21, all four Tiger men established season lows for the 3.1 mile distance.
Chapman, Mansfield’s most consistent competitor, has ranked the group’s top runner throughout the year. Going against a league full of outstanding runners, the sophomore gained a real confidence boost by breaking the 20 minute barrier.
Faith Rainwater, the Lady Tiger’s top performer for most of the season, was in terrific position through the opening mile. Just beyond that point, the sophomore tweaked an ankle and strained her arch with an awkward gate thereafter. The fallout pulled her back to 12th place among small schools and 39th overall.
The 24:13.73 clocking was still among the top 12 medal winners. However, it was 14 seconds below her target after the promising fast start.
Griffin, Rainwater, Darby Jones, Katlynn Moore, and Lennon Woods comprised the scoring five for the Lady Tigers. Collectively the group finished third in the team standings. Shelby Cole and Holly Owen were the displacers.
The Mansfield junior girls raced to team runner-up status in their division. Trinity Triska took the Tiger reins with an 11:40.45 mark for third place among the class 1A-4A runners.
Triska has medaled in every meet this season except at the ultra-tough Chile Pepper Festival at the University of Arkansas Agricultural Park. At the Van Buren Invitational Saturday, she was only 14 seconds behind the top two finishers from the small school ranks with about 800m to go.
Jadelynn Wood at number 11 and Alyssa James at 15 were the next two medalists for the Lady Tigers. The two freshmen have picked up their training schedules in recent days as a move to the high school squad looms after the conference finals on October 28.
Meghan Emery and Aiden Fildes rounded out the scoring five for the MJH prep team. Addie Bowman and Laney Wood were the team’s displacers. Azlynn Nelson also ran for Mansfield.