It was no secret throughout the season that the Mansfield cross country teams were in one of the strongest conferences in the state. On Saturday, November 9, the results from the Arkansas Activities Association’s 64th annual state finals proved the point.
The 3A-1 West district produced team state championships in both the men’s and women’s divisions of the class 3A races. West Fork from the men’s side and Waldron off the women’s side took the top step on the championship platform.
West Fork grabbed the men’s title with 41 points. Waldron took the women’s trophy with 84 points.
What stood out was the impressive finishes of the rest of the conference rosters. Eight teams from the 3A-1West conference landed in the top 10 teams overall.
West Fork (1), Waldron (6), and Elkins (9) dotted the top ten in the men’s 3A race. Waldron (1), West Fork (4), Elkins (5), Greenland (8), and Mansfield (10) saturated the women’s 3A heat.
“Our league is really blessed with some good cross country runners,” stated John Mackey, the coach of the Mansfield Tigers. “Our men should have also been in that conversation of top ten teams. Unfortunately, we carried only four male runners today which kept us out of the scoring.”
Mansfield’s girls, loaded with potential at the onset of the season, labored down the stretch with a series of injuries. Three of the team’s top five runners faced significant medical issues that sidelined them for all or part of the season. Six total Lady Tigers lost time throughout the season because of hip, knee, or foot problems.
“It was just one of those years,” said Mackey as he reflected back on the season’s schedule. “Despite the battle with bad luck, we actually did very well individually. Most all of our kids set personal records this year; even those that had limited seasons because of medical mishaps.”
McKenzie Griffin stayed as healthy as any off the Tiger roster. The sophomore finished 31 out of 136 state runners to cross as the top state Tiger.
“McKenzie was coming on strong this last month of the season,” exclaimed her coach. “She beat her previous personal record four times this season. Today, she set another career mark.”
Griffin covered the 5K race in 23:25.5. That was 1:13 faster than her time a year ago at the state finals.
This season alone, Griffin picked up All-District, and All-Region honors. Prior to the state finals at Hot Spring’s Oaklawn Park, she was in line to make the Farm Bureau River Valley All Star roster.
Faith Rainwater, another Mansfield sophomore, finished 49th. The placing was a good mark considering the former player of the year was hobbled by a strained instep over the last several weeks of the season.
“Faith was our number one runner and on a real roll the first half of the season,” explained Mackey. “At the Van Buren meet, she suffered a foot injury that took her away from training. Only in the last few days has she been able to endure a modified workout. I thought she ran really well considering the circumstances. I’m so proud of her toughness.”
Mansfield’s scoring five came from Griffin, Rainwater, Darby Jones, Jadelynn Wood, and Katlynn Moore. Alyssa James and Shelby Cole provided displacer points. Hope Rainwater and Holly Owen completed the Lady Tiger nine person roster.
“Darby had incredible gains this year,” said the coach. “She became our number three runner this season after not making the top nine a year ago. She really had a memorable season, a confidence building season.”
“Jadelynn and Katlynn came along and fit nicely into the mix,” continued the Tiger mentor. “It was expected of Jadelynn and she delivered right on cue. Kat came from nowhere and made a strong push over the last month.”
The Tiger men saw extreme gains as well over the course of the season. Ethan Chapman once again led the Tiger pack. The 2018 player of the year ran the fastest time for the Tigers at 19:58.7. That was about a 20 second improvement over his time from last year’s state finals.
Chapman was 52nd out of 159 men runners in the 3A grouping. Just a few weeks ago he collected All-Region honors at the Tom Stuthard Top 25 in Mena. Prior to press time it looked like he too was going to make the Farm Bureau River Valley All Star Top 20.
John Branche at 21:34.4 was the second fastest Tiger male on the afternoon. His time stamp placed him at 91st place.
Ashton Hinkle, a freshman, and Victor Steffen, an eleventh grader rounded out the Mansfield men runners.
“Our players are really young and gained a lot of experience in a very strong conference,” reviewed Mackey. “If we can build a stronger mental game, I think the drop down into class 2A next year will bring out even more of our best times.”