All Heart Memphis Athletes - Which boys came out on top this season?
We just made it through probably the oddest seasons of cross country that anyone can remember. I've heard some people say that they can tell the lack of a track season has hurt some fitness levels of the athletes for cross country this year. I've noticed the same thing as well. But the perseverance of the athletes in the Memphis area is something to be celebrated. So here's - based on mile split rankings and races - are the best cross country athletes from the Memphis area this year. And I know Thanksgiving is past us now, but there is so much to be thankful for this season that I can't go any further without mentioning a couple things.
First, the Memphis Youth Athletics has to start out as the top runner (oh gosh, another pun) in what to be thankful for. This organization has stepped up big time for the Memphis area this season. From having races every day of the week to spread out the number of athletes to having a venue for athletes across the state to get competition, to bringing in some of the fastest athletes to run on Tennessee soil! Can't say enough about how they've kept us in the normal. Ok, not really normal... spectators separated and limited, wearing masks all over the place, small groups, waves, procedures, protocols, testing requirements, come in and run and go home.... Not normal. But watching athletes get in some competition, now that's normal. Thank you MYA!
Next, I want to be thankful for the athletes. Their dedication and that strong desire to compete, is well, way over the top and impressive. As a coach, you always question how much pressure to put on an athlete in any situation. How will they take it, or better yet, can they handle the pressure if it's put on them? I once told the lone senior on a 4x400 relay that her team needed a commanding win in the relay and if so, they would win the Region title, something the school hadn't ever done in the past. This senior got the team together, prayed, then she told them the news. She would anchor. She watched and enthusiastically cheered every leg and every step each athlete took until she got the baton. With all the cheering she did, I was surprised she even had the breathe to run! They were leading when she took the baton and then took that lead to another level. When finished, she said it was just ALL HEART that propelled that team. Thank you athletes for the competition you so greatly embrace!
So, let's get on to the competitors here and see who the, well, I'm going to call them the ALL HEART TEAM, the best in Memphis. Let's start with the guys, the D1 group clearly had some of the fastest around. Landen McNair from the Bartlett group leads the way for the Memphis area athletes. Early on, he was able to post a 15:14.70 and a win at the Saltillo meet in MS. That's a PR for him. A top five at the Jesse Owens and a champion spot at the Region 8-AAA meet probably topped off his season.
A couple of Landen's teammates, Robert Dawson and Elliot Garst, follow as the next two fastest from the area. Robert blistered a track 5K in mid-October and posted his fastest to date at 15:42.20. Elliott also posted a fast time there in 15:46.20 and a 4th place spot in the Region 8 meet. Robert was third at the Region meet which helped that team secure the championship in a very strong way. Chance Kirby, another Bartlett runner settles within the top group of D1 athletes this year with his 16:17 run.
However, the State championships didn't pan out the way the Bartlett guys would have expected it too. But isn't that how cross country goes... very unexpected things can happen. One course can be an athletes dream, while another course a runner's nightmare. I'm not saying the state course this year was a nightmare, but it wasn't that great a course either. But one race doesn't dictate a season, as a matter of fact, the season is what dictates the athlete.
Now that brings me to some of the other guys in this area. The Region 8 meet could have been somewhat of a forewarning to some degree for the Houston group. Jake Arnold and Hays Adams wedged in-between those Bartlett guys probably didn't raise many eyebrows. But it should have. Last year, Jake's best in the 5K was around 16:44 and this year he dropped it down to a 16:04.00! Forty seconds during a year that was so far away from normal training, now that's an impressive statement to make for sure. Hays posted a fast 16:24 this season, which also was his PR for the distance. Hays was also one of those 17 freshman that broke the 17-minute mark at the State meet and ends the season with a top five spot among all freshman this season.
And to finish off this top list, there are a few others in the D1 school category that I need to mention as well. Arlington's Christian Stephens, set a fairly impressive PR this season with his winning time of 16:09 in early October. Just ahead of him is Tal Old of Collierville with a 16:07 PR this season. Tal fared better at the Region 8 meet, getting 7th place and hit one of two marks over 17 at the state meet.
Within the Division 2 Memphis area schools, Harding Academy's Andy Henton and Christian Brothers Jake Ryan are the cream of the crop this season. Andy took advantage of the MYA meets this season and that propelled him to his first sub 15 mark of 15:56 PR and also helped him move up six spots at the State Championship to earn him the runner up spot there. Andy stayed in the mid to low 16's all season this year and also one of the few runners who didn't see a big drop in his time at the State championship course this year.
Jake Ryan has probably shown the best improvement out of any in this Elite 8 group between the D1 and D2 divisions. Last cross country season, Jake's best was a 16:52 and this year he dropped it to 16:11.00. He also ran a 10:05 for the 3200 on the track in August at the Ed Murphey Classic. A top ten at the state meet, as well as a 16:44 there was a good way to end this Brothers cross country season.
And speaking of the Brothers team, it appears every year they have tons come out for cross country. Even though Parker Russ only ran one 5K and a track 3200 this season, he came out strong as one of the top among the brothers. Adam Willett, Brett Barron, Alex Grusin, Hunter Lomasney and others help make these guys a tough team to beat.
MUS always seems to get in great athletes when it comes to cross country, Caleb Skinner clearly is one athlete that we may want to watch. He stayed consistent in the mid 16's and just over 17 at the state meet and that puts him on the watch list as he continues in the sport.
So here is my "All Heart Memphis Elite Eight team" for D1 (small and large schools combined):
- Landon McNair, 15:14
- Robert Dawson, 15:42
- Elliott Garst, 15:46
- Jake Arnold, 16:04
- Tal Old, 16:07
- Christian Stephens, 16:09
- Chance Kirby, 16:17
- Robert Randall, 16:20
- Team: Houston High School (practically a tie with Bartlett, but the huge 70 point gap and a 3rd place team finish at the State meet gave then the slightest of edges here)
And for the D2 class (again, combined school size here):
- Andy Henton, 15:56
- Jake Ryan, 16:11
- Ben Faasse, 16:18
- Parker Russ, 16:25
- Caleb Skinner, 16:26
- Adam Willett, 16:45
- Clay Hawley, 16:56
- Nash Kaye, 16:59
- Team: Christian Brothers High School (consistency through and at the State meet gives them the nod this season, and add the sheer numbers of athletes on this team and that's bonus points)
Thanks for reading and send all your positive comments to my email, I will read them all. Negative comments go in that cylindrical container you see in a lot of rooms or maybe under your kitchen sink.
Let's be hopeful for the upcoming track season and thanks to everyone for the competition this season. A girls write up will be out in a day or two.
See you on the track... and the grass!