Frank Horton "Night" Invitational
This weekend is the third of three "night-time" races held in the Memphis area this time of year. The Memphis Twilight kicked it off, then the Ed Murphey 5x1 mile challenge and now the Frank Horton Invitational. With Friday night being open for the elementary, middle school and community open events and Saturday the High School events, it's a weekend of racing not to be missed.
The Christian Brothers HS group is the host of this event and has been for so many years it's hard to imagine anyone else doing it. Clearly one of the best races of the season for any Memphis area athlete and one that is a treasured win should you get it! But this isn't only a Memphis area race, teams from all around the area make the trek out to participate in the Horton. You'll see teams from Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama that regularly come out to race here and they bring some talent with them as well!
The CBHS team usually comes in with a strong group and I assume they will again this year! However, this year might just be left to the larger D1 schools like Arlington and Bartlett to battle it out for the top spot. Arlington seems to have the leg up (ok, yep, that's a pun on running). Last year Fayetteville HS from Arkansas was able to sweep the top spot in both boys and girls varsity division. Bartlett guys came in runner up and Arlington girl's runner up.
This year, it could be a very close run between the Arlington and Bartlett boys. I don't think there will be much difference in the points total between these teams. Bartlett boys won the JR Ward TN Classic last weekend on a strong showing with their top five coming in within the top 25 overall. I haven't seen much in the way of races with both these teams, but at the Memphis Twilight, Bartlett took the top local spot and Arlington was a few points behind. If Arlington's top runners can hold their spots in the top 3 (Jackson Williams, Alec McCreary, Owen Young), then that likely will tip the scales towards them this weekend. I'm pretty sure Bartlett's Landen McNair and Robert Dawson are going to try and play the spoilers here though. Should be interesting to watch!
Although I haven't seen him run since the Memphis Twilight, Arlington's Williams is currently the top runner in the region and stands as the third best in the state so far this season. He was runner up at last years Horton and the first local finisher at the race and so I expect him to get one better this year. Considering he ran a very improved PR at the Memphis Twilight earlier, I would say that's almost a given. But it's cross country, nothing is given and we all know that!
The girls side is going to be a toss-up between a couple of the best in their respective Divisions. Division 1 Arlington and Division 2 St. George's are likely to be two at the very top in this race. This is a bit of a contrast with Arlington in the large school D1 class and St. George's in the small school D2 division. But it does bring up a very good point - and that is when it comes down to running, doesn't matter what size school you are in... it's the training, the dedication, the heart of the athlete that makes the difference!
Ok, back to the athletes. With Allison Newman of St. George's having the best time this season (19:22.10) and Ann-Marie Braese of Arlington the second fastest local best by just a couple of seconds (19:25.03), this front pack is going to be an interesting group. These two are both ranked in the top 25 of the state and are very talented athletes. Could the best local runner change after Saturday's race... I'd say come out and watch how this race turns out, should be fun to watch.
Now, a couple of genuinely talented out of state runners are going to get in the mix for sure here though. Long Beach High's (MS) Brooklyn Biancamano is the top seed so far entering this race. Brooklyn has a pretty strong race resume this season and hasn't lost of race out of the six she's entered this season. And if you delete the Nike Cross from last year, she is very used to winning races and so will be coming into this Horton on a very confident note for sure. Hernando's Jessica Cartwright has a bit of a confidence boost coming here as well. Jessica just set a new PR last weekend and has a few impressive wins under her belt this season too. It remains to be seen if the local athletes can topple these two but Saturday will tell!
As far as the team side, St. George's has a group of girls that really are closely matched and that could make a big difference if they are able to work together Saturday and make a strong surge at the end. Arlington's team though, on paper and on average, shows to be just a bit faster and so could be the deciding factor this weekend. In a tight race, it's always difficult to make a prediction. In cross country, it's really just a guess since who knows what every athlete on the team feels at exactly the precise moment the starters gun goes off! There are so many variables to contend with on a 5 kilometer grass course with changing terrain and hills and mud and who knows what else you can encounter.
So whatever the conditions, whatever the challenge... good luck to everyone! And if you want to see one of the best races in the Memphis area, get out to Shelby farms Friday and Saturday night and watch these athletes compete. It's a spectator friendly course, it's night so it's cooler.... But a word of warning.. bring bug spray... oh, and be sure to yell support for your favorite team and athletes... they enjoy the encouragement!!
See you on the track.. and the grass