Posted Date: 07/28/2020
Two seasons ago Darby Jones was just looking for an outlet to curb her athletic appetite. Having watched her older sister find huge success as a Mansfield Lady Tiger track athlete, the upcoming MHS junior has quietly begun creating a name for herself.
Jones, a member of the 2020 Mansfield Cross Country team, admits her first year in sports was anything but historic. That was two years ago when the home school student first tried cross country as a freshman.
“Darby joined us a couple of seasons ago,” John Mackey, the Mansfield cross country and track coach, explained. “She was really just a skinny kid that resembled a newborn colt finding its way. We just tried to encourage her and help her develop as an athlete.”
Eden Jones, Darby’s older sister by nearly 5 years, was to some degree responsible for encouraging her sibling to give cross country a try. The elder of the two family members was a three year heptathlete and a crucial piece to Mansfield’s last state championship team.
Fast forward to this summer, that gentle nudge between sisters looks to be just the push that may move Mansfield past elite status once again in 2020.
“I watched Eden run track and cross country when I was younger,” Darby stated. “I was looking for something I could do in athletics. She made me come to summer practice and encouraged me to keep running.
That first year, I was a little frustrated. It took awhile to get that muscularity. The following season I spent two to three times a day in the gym working with weights. I found a good ab routine on Youtube. It’s helped my posture. I feel stronger and it’s helped my breathing.”
The transformation in Jones has become increasingly more evident as the third year Lady Tiger attends team workouts in preparation for the upcoming season. Motivated to be a better runner, she has set a lofty goal to be among the best.
“I’d like to get my 5K time down to the 21 minute range,” Jones expressed. “I’m already halfway through my high school career and I feel like I just got started. You could say I have a sense of urgency right now.”
Should Jones meet her goal, the results would most likely place her among the top 10 at the state championships in November. According to ar.milesplit.com, the top runners from the 2019 Arkansas State Finals for class 1A-2A ran faster than 22 minutes.
Last season, Jones reached River Valley All-Star and All-Region Top 25 status with a personal record time of 24:27 for the 5K distance. That was a three minute improvement between her first race to her last race a season ago. A repeat improvement this season will likely put the junior runner right where she aspires.
“We ran three times one-mile repeats last Thursday,” Mackey said. “Darby went 6:37, 6:37, and 6:54 for the cycle. If you put that together, her pace was on target to reach the goal. She still looks like that skinny kid, but it's the lean muscle of an emerging athlete."
The coach continued. "What’s exciting was that our top girls were right there together. Faith (Rainwater) led two of the three reps. Her three mile average was six seconds off the top pace of the day. McKenzie (Griffin), Hope (Rainwater) and Kat (Moore) weren’t far behind either. They were in the 22 minute range through projections.”
As a whole, Mansfield cross country runners logged 235.5 miles for the second week of July. Cassidy Carlton, a sophomore, was among the top five for total miles on the Lady Tiger senior high team. Lita Hecox, Jadelynn Wood, and Alyssa James added to the overall total for the older team.
John Branche accumulated the most miles among the Mansfield senior high men. The junior runner also averaged 6:08 per mile on Thursday’s pace workout.
Aidan Fildes and Trinity Triska reported the most miles among the junior high girls last week while Jonah Martin did the same for the junior boys squad.
“Those that have been coming to summer sessions are already seeing a real difference,” Mackey exclaimed. “With no seniors, the junior class is working hard, stimulating good competition and encouraging others by example. Darby’s story is just one of many positive narratives going on so far this year.”