The Frank Horton Meet Recap
Cross Country has been around for years and so has the Annual Frank Horton Invitational.There's never a doubt that this race will bring out some very impressive athletes doing what they do best... run fast! With two days of racing, having the Purple division on Friday evening and the Gold on Saturday, the athletes and competition was spread out. I suppose you can call that the Covid factor.One thing the covid factor hasn't diminished though is the fact that when there is a race to be run, the real competitors certainly find a way to get there and do their thing.
The girls race turned out to be the shining example of what can happen in a cross country race will happen. I'm not talking about Bentwood club coming in and taking the win, we all know that it appears that with the talent they have, they can limp in and still make a top showing in the State! They are impressive indeed. But like the hidden turns in cross country races, there's always a surprise as you make the turn. Kaitlyn Vanderkolk came into this meet as the clear favorite with her runner up spot in the state rankings. Although Kaitlyn didn't match her season best, she still ran pretty well, but her teammate, Brooke Tyll, ran even better. It's what happens in cross country. The courses are always different and one course may suite an athlete better than another. Brooke took the lead and finished in 18:08.46 and Kaitlyn a fifth spot in 18:48.Those two spots lead the way for the Brentwood team to win the team title as well.
The surprise here Saturday, at least on paper, was the Arlington (Atown runners) Ann-Marie Braese taking it to the finish in the runner up spot in 18:32.82. That's a good twenty plus second PR for the athlete. Ann-Marie was actually a pretty good distance back after the first mile or mile and a half had passed. But just after the two-mile spot, she just seemed to have a spark and started picking up her pace and make up considerable ground on the front runners. Maybe it was her teammate, Olivia Barnes that gave her that spark. Or even possibly Allison Newman (running unattached) that gave Ann-Marie that extra push. By the time these athletes passed the lake loop and came out of the trees, they were in essence, the chase pack. With about seven seconds apart from each other, it was a good race to the finish. Olivia hit a mark of 18:38.19 and Allison in 18:39.96.Needless to say, each of these were glad to be able to compete again. Very glad!
I was about to say another surprise came out of the race but in hindsight, it's not really a surprise. The Mustang team, a group that is almost always at the top of the pack when they come out to race. With not a lot of racing under their belts this season, they came in as a bit of an unknown. Well, unknown is probably not the best word since if you halfway follow the sport, you know they will be mentioned. Having placed athletes in 5th, 7th, 12th, 13th and 22nd spots in this race, that's a pretty tightly packed group. Their 6th place runner was 23rd. So it's almost like they have a backup should someone have a bad day (or night in this case).Not surprisingly, Lydia Tankersley lead off the group (18:57) and Gracey Owens right next to her (18:59).It's been said that when you run with a buddy, the perceived effort for a hard pace sometimes just doesn't feel that difficult. Maybe it's not really the case, but these Mustangs seem to always run together in packs and it ends up being a solid strategy for their constant success.
Moving a little further out in the county, I think there is something in the water in that Arlington suburb. It seems they always have a front runner in their group. This year, they doubled it -two front runners. Not to be superstitious or anything, but with just 13 points separating them from the Mustangs, that's some close running for the top two local teams here. Brentwood had 39 points, Mustangs 59 and Atown 72. These three clearly a step ahead of the next best team and I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but after no track season and such a rough start to the cross country season, it's no surprise the perennial teams are at the top.
The boys side wasn't a big surprise if you're from the Memphis area. Bartlett was able to power through and get 72 points to take the team win over Mountain Home Bombers (89 points).The Bombers came in from Arkansas for this race and made the trip worth the effort for sure. Their top two runners made the top ten overall finishers here. Whit Lawrence was the tip of the spear with his 4th place finish in 15:51.53.With six athletes under 16 in this meet, Whit made an impressive run at it for sure. Whit's previous best at the 5K distance was 15:57, so he must have had a pretty good ride home after this performance.
The top runner overall was NC State commitment, Miles Ally.I've known Miles's family since he first came out to the Memphis Twilight when he early on in middle school, oh, maybe even earlier than that! Every year this athlete kept getting better. If you look at his progression from year to year, whether it be the 800, 1600, 5K, indoor, outdoor, each and every year this athlete just posts better and better marks. For example, here's his 800 progression from 2014 to now - in order - 2:47, 2:33, 2:16, 2:06, 2:00.Like I said, better and better and better. I'm not surprised at all that he won this race Saturday. And really, I'm probably just as happy about it as he is! Great race!
Ok, so I mentioned Bartlett got 72 points to take the team competition. Even though a tough battle was predicted with some other teams, it's another one of those that just isn't a surprise if you are from the Memphis area. Just by team participation, you'd have to give Bartlett an edge. Their team is pretty big and always competitive. Landen McNair was less than a second from taking the edge from Miles at the finish and was the first Bartlett athlete to cross the finish. Landen's time, 15:17.81 (15:17.11 for Miles) was really close to his 15:14.70 best just a week ago and so you had to feel he was going to perform well here too.Last year at this same course and meet, Landen ran a 16:18.33 and got third.That's better than a minute faster this year, and when you're talking in the 15 and 16-minute range, not exactly an easy task to accomplish!
The Bartlett team had an impressive 1st, 7th, 14th, 22nd and 28th place finishes from their top five. That's Landen, Robert Dawson (16:17.76), Chance Kirby (16:30), Elliot Garst (16:57) and Christian Patterson (17:15).Their sixth man, Ethan Wright, was just a couple seconds back in 17:18.90).Nice team effort for these guys - which is something we fully expect to keep hearing this season.
So I've mentioned the Bartlett team and the Arkansas Mountain Home team. Third place team was, yep, the Mustang XC Club.I guess I didn't want to leave these guys out, especially after hyping up the girl's team so much! Ok, that third place race was a pretty tight one and the Mustangs had to push themselves to get that spot. They earned 110 points and fourth got 115 (Sovereign Grace) and fifth got 118 (Brentwood).Pretty tight race for third.
The Mustangs best finisher was Jake Arnold who ran a 16:10.59 to get 8th overall and 4th in the team standings. Although they didn't have a lot in the top 10 of the team rankings, they were tightly packed as well and that was what helped them hold off the competition and keep the third spot. Samuel Tankersley (16:53), Robert Randall (16:56), Wilson Boutwell (17:19) and finishing off the fifth spot at 34th in the team rankings was William Lloyd (17:27).This wasn't exactly how I thought the Mustang group would finish, but that's the case with cross country, anything can happen.
Without a lot of races, sometimes it's hard to compare and see who is doing well and who is poised to have a break out meet. I also talked about how the girls seem to always run in packs, maybe 2 or 3 to a pack and end up around the same spot in races. Well, Samuel Tankersley and Robert Randall are doing exactly that this year. Last week these guys ran to 8th and 9th place with identical times of 16:41, Samuel got the nod. This week the duo ends up less than 3 seconds apart with no competitor between then. Samuel getting the better of the two again. Last year Samuel ran this course in 17:25 and Robert in 17:45, a much larger spread between them. That's 31 seconds faster for Samuel this year and he went from 27th place to 26th place here at the Horton. For Robert, well, just a bit better than that - a whopping 49 second improvement and he went from 33rd place to 27th this year. That's some impressive improvement and considering this season just started, I'm wondering where it will go!
I can't go much further without acknowledging Nick Dwyer and the Memphis Youth Athletics organization for putting this meet on the calendar and going live with it. Spectators were limited to certain areas and we all know how much that cuts into the excitement along the course, but we were happy to see spectators listening and complying with the rules of the day.
Kevin Raney, taking over the Race Director duties this year, did a wonderful job this weekend. It takes a boatload - and I mean a huge boatload - of volunteers to make these meets happen among the conditions we are in. Stressful yes, rewarding, most definitely, exciting to see competition happen again - unquestionably without a doubt a huge and very loud YES!!!
See you on the track and the grass.... And forgive me if I don't recognize you, you know... the mask!