Posted Date: 08/30/2021
Mansfield distance runners made it through their summer pre-season training with medium temperatures through morning or late evening workouts. Then they experienced real heat the first two weeks of school as extreme temperatures found practice when it shifted to afternoon school yard runs. Hopefully, outside weather conditions improve as the team nears its first meet of the year.
The Tiger cross country team has Perryville listed as their first stop on their 2021 season schedule. Typically, the team’s opening round of races is launched from Magazine or Ben Geren Park. This year the senior laden team wanted a new venue to begin their quest for another spectacular season.
Perryville was to run races in all divisions on a shortened course on August 31. Both junior and senior high events for men and women will be a 1.55 mile route to kick off the season.
Mansfield, armed and more importantly leg powered by 5 seniors, seems anxious for the season to start. As of press time the trip to Perry County was on go with the Tigers hoping to take a little less than 25 players to the week one meet.
The ongoing jest among the cross country runners is that their sport is another sports’ punishment. Admittedly, their mentality recognizes their game of play requires no rim, goal post, or net. They run for the sake of running. Nonetheless, they run to win just like any other sport.
“They may not catch a pass, shoot a three, or spike a volleyball, but their skill level is just as critical to this sport as any other,” said Mansfield head coach John Mackey as his team was finishing up preparations for their first contest. “Our kids pay attention to form, stride length, stride frequency, and pace. They push their limits daily and have improved greatly since day one. The test against others is finally here.”
The 5 seniors listed on the Tiger roster were all a part of the state runner-up team that rounded the hills of Hot Springs at last year’s state finals. McKenzie Griffin, Darby Jones, Katlynn Moore, Faith Rainwater, and Hope Rainwater are those experienced five.
“You might as well put Jadelynn Wood right there with them,” acknowledged the coach. “She’s only a junior but she’s basically been with this group so long she’s a senior by proxy. This is an experienced group that does what they’re supposed to do without demand.”
Jones has been the most impressive so far this summer. The lanky senior has dropped her times and increased her mileage beyond what she did a year ago as a member of the Farm Bureau River Valley All-Star team. Also in 2020, she was the 2A-4 individual medalist and the 2A Region runner-up.
Griffin has been challenging Jones nearly step for step at least through the early portions of practice. A former All-Star athlete as well, Griffin has steadily regained her form similar to her sophomore season. That was the one from which most of the accolades echoed her production.
Faith Rainwater, the most decorated of the Tiger returners, gives Mansfield a formidable pack based upon past credentials. The only two time All-State athlete on the roster, Rainwater has been pulling two a day practices since school began in August.
Twin sister Hope Rainwater had her most productive summer to date. Typically one of the senior girl’s top five placers, she carried more of a leadership role through the July camp.
Moore was gone most of June and July doing boot camp as a requirement for her impending military service. Since returning to school, she has begun to find her long distance groove again.
The lone eleventh grader, Wood, got better as the summer progressed. Steadily she built her stamina back up and looks to once again be a top Tiger producer. Wood has been an All-District and All-Region athlete the past two seasons and narrowly missed All-State status a year ago.
The junior girls will rally around a core nucleus and a pair of newcomers.
Trinity Triska and Laney Wood have been the top Mansfield prep players for the last two seasons. Both freshmen are expected to make a large impact on both the junior high and eventually the senior high season when the time is right for a move up.
Addie Bowman, Azlynn Stover, and Aidan Fildes were part of the junior high’s conference championship team a year ago. They return as freshman runners for the Tigers’ younger team.
Rileigh Parker joined the squad late last year and has some experience coming back. She will be joined by newcomers Danielle Lowery, just a seventh grader, and Ashley Martin, a move in from Greenwood, on the 8 person roster.
The junior boys are still relatively young but have experience to run the show. Joseph Carter, Joey Fildes, Jonah Martin, and Rylan Nichols return for their second season. All were seventh graders on the 2020 district championship team.
Fildes was the number one runner for the Tigers last year. Nichols and Martin alternated between the second and third positions on the team ranking. Carter was typically a top four guy.
Fildes’ younger brother Gunner Williams has already shown signs that he will be a contender this season. Only a seventh grader, he has already built himself up to 4 and 5 mile days through summer training.
Holden Powers, another seventh grader, had the most miles and the most days of summer practice of any of the newcomers for the junior boys. He has developed quickly under the tutelage of some of the high school helpers.
Braxton Bartlett and Leland Powell, track athletes for the Mansfield junior high team last spring, have joined the cross country squad for the first time. Jacob Bolin also joined the distance team since school started and is making his way to the full time roster once he catches up his training.
Ashton Hinkle was the most productive senior high boy runner during the July workouts. Since school started a family decision forced him to retreat from this season due to concerns related to an upward spike in virus cases around the state.
John Branche, a senior that also plays football, has been unable to reach training levels due to football conflicts. His availability for cross country meets is on hold until later in the season.