Posted Date: 11/08/2022
Mansfield ran hard. It just wasn’t enough. With limited experience on their side, the Tiger cross country teams “got close but no cigar” at Friday’s AAA Class 2A State Championships in Hot Springs.
On the infield of Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Mansfield and the rest of the Arkansas high school cross country teams gathered for the 2022 state finals. The Mansfield women fought hard but fell seven points shy of their third consecutive team trophy. They walked away in third place. The Mansfield men, competing as a team for the first time in years, came away in sixth place.
Two Mansfield runners made real noise landing in the top 10 for their individual races. Freshman Joey Williams surprised the field staying with the leaders for most of the race to finish in fourth place overall. He brought home All-State honors. Sophomore Laney Wood ran a solid race and a seventh place individual finish. She too brought back All-State credentials.
“We just didn’t have enough depth and enough experience to get to the podium as a team,” expressed Mansfield head coach John Mackey. “We had some solid pieces, progressed well, but in the end just didn’t have enough.”
Williams stole the show for the Tigers. The Mansfield product pushed the front runners and stayed connected to the top three finishers for most of the race. Eventually, the freshman’s unfamiliarity with the Oaklawn infield kept him at bay as two seniors and a junior finished ahead in the individual standings.
“Joey did great,” spoke his excited head coach. “He fought hard and proved he belonged. That was only his third senior high race at the senior high distance. You have to remember he was competing at the shorter junior high distance up until these last three weeks. Very impressive, now on to the All-Stars.”
Williams set a personal record for the 5K distance at 17:47.80. His time was one of five that underpinned the 18 minute mark at the class 2A state finals.
Senior Tate Stacks of Quitman took the men’s title at 16:43.81. He was followed closely by junior Jacen Heiner of Haas Hall Bentonville (16:49.85) and senior Christian Kratz of Ouachita (17:20.66) just before Williams completed his first state finals race.
Lady Tiger Laney Wood went out fast and held strong among the top three in the women’s race for the first two loops. The 2021 All-State athlete faltered a bit down the stretch losing contact with the lead.
Wood, Mansfield’s number one female runner throughout the season, finished in a time of 22:08.99. The mark confirmed her second consecutive All-State award.
“Laney was terrific as usual,” detailed Mackey. “Last season, she ran the shorter junior high distance and had that muscle memory of a faster pace. Her 2021 finals time was actually a bit faster but she still ran a terrific race today. I’m really proud of Laney and Joey both for getting All-State medals. They have the talent and desire to keep getting better.”
Mansfield’s senior girls targeted Quitman and Greenland, the predicted top two team finishers, as schools to beat for a trophy. They also had Bigelow on the brain but the Panthers hadn’t been hot since early in the season.
Realistically, MHS knew Quitman was going to need a total meltdown to not repeat for the third consecutive season as state champs. As predicted, they finished first with an incredibly low score of 18.
Mansfield kept the guard up against Greenland clawing past the Pirates 77 to 116. While the Lady Tigers and the Pirates continued the scuffle for second place, a pack of close connected Panthers slipped through the cracks undetected.
Bigelow, without a runner in the top 10, sent a steady stream past the finish line for 70 points and the state runner-up trophy. Their five scoring runners stayed within a 3:01 minute window to post an average team time of 24:01.
Mansfield had a larger gap to overcome as their scoring five were split by a 4:03 minute margin. Their average team time was 24:18 for third place. The previous two seasons, Mansfield tightened up the team differential and came away with two consecutive state runner-up statues.
Sophomore Trinity Triska improved the team average with a 23:43.92 clocking. She completed the course in 18th place overall and produced 10 points for the Tigers.
Senior Jadelynn Wood had the third best team finish. She clocked in at 24:07.85 for 26th place.
“Trinity and Jadelynn both started strong and stayed inside the top ten for a long time,” announced Mackey. “The effort it takes to stay at that pace was a little overwhelming. They had to drop back a bit but still gave us quality times rivaling the Bigelow average.”
“Jadelynn had a lot of responsibility as the team leader,” confessed Mackey. “She was our only senior and that carries an extra weight with no one to share the load. She was an awesome team captain, and had a very productive season. Her foundation is set for a terrific indoor and outdoor track season.”
Raine Hecox (36th) and Addison Bowman (42nd) completed the Lady Tiger scoring five. Ashley Martin (52nd) was the team’s lone blocker. All three competed in their first cross country finals.
The Tiger men saw Jonah Martin finish in a flurry to sport the team’s second best time. The freshman talent went a personal record of 19:41.75 for 21st place overall.
“Jonah doesn’t realize how talented he is as a distance runner,” offered his coach. “He just proved he was the twenty-first fastest runner in the entire class 2A state today, and he was the fourth fastest freshman there.”
Freshman growing pains was the story for the Mansfield men. Five of their six representatives were ninth graders. The lone upperclassman was part time runner Austin Ruiz, a sophomore, who came over from basketball to ensure the team had a complete roster.
Teamed with Williams and Martin, Mansfield had Alex Hecox (52nd), Joseph Carter (54th), and Braxton Bartlett (62nd) populate the freshmen dominated Tiger ticket. Mixed in with Ruiz’s 41st place mark, the MHS men’s team finished six overall.
A closer look at the numbers reveals Mansfield’s five freshmen were among the best from the class of 2026 to compete at the state meet. Focusing the state field to just freshmen finishes, Mansfield’s five were 1, 4, 9, 10 and 13 in ranked order.
“This group has been building a team from the ground up,” noted Mackey. “They’ve won three consecutive junior high conference championships, took the senior high district this year after moving up, and were sixth at their first finals. There needs to be a hard look at keeping this band together for the reunion tour.”