Heber Springs edged Pea Ridge by 12 points on Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn Park as junior Madi Fires placed runner-up and classmate Mary Simmons finished third, leading the Lady Panthers to the Class 4A state championship for the first time since a four-year title streak from 2004-07.
“We felt there was opportunity this year for both teams,” said Heber Coach Johnette Goldman. “It is so awesome to actually see it come to pass.
“It is extra neat for the girls. It has been since 2007 that our girls have won a state championship. All the girls that raced would not have been old enough to even be on a team yet in 2007; most would have been in elementary school.
“Both teams can now be proud to be able to add their names to the list of Panther State Champions. They gave us all they had, which is all we ask. It was a great day to be a Heber Springs Panther,” added Goldman.
Fires, the defending Class 4A individual state champion, placed second with a time of 20:45.7, just over nine seconds behind Monticello sophomore Sarah Claycomb, who posted a winning mark of 20:36.9.
Simmons secured third place with a time of 21:15.4 but Pea Ridge took a brief lead with three straight qualifiers, led by senior Natalie Flippo's time of 21:38.6, which was good for seventh overall.
Heber, which finished with 56 points, regained some momentum with solid times from freshman Courtney Kendall (19th, 23:12) and junior Amanda Matthews (21st, 23:17.7) and hung on with the help of freshman Stephanie Music (27th, 23:47.9).
Sophomores Hannah Mangum (28th, 23:51.6) and Adrianna Simmons (35th, 24:14.8) served as displacers, giving the Lady Panthers plenty of scoring depth to fend off any comeback by the Lady Blackhawks, who finished with a total of 68 points.
Gentry placed third (112), Ozark was fourth (116), Berryville fifth (121), Southside Batesville sixth (139) and Central Arkansas Christian seventh (145).
It's special to see this group grow both as people and athletes, which in time, helps the program achieve at an incredible level.
“God has begun a good work in these kids. It is wonderful to know he is not through with them yet,” said Goldman. “The tradition is still alive. We trust this just lights up an even stronger desire to do it again.
“We are blessed to get to witness those little faces, that a few minutes before were filled with anxiety, uncertainty and even tears, begin to beam with the happiness of victory. It hits them that they met the challenge as a team. They walk away not only with the gold, but more importantly, stronger and more united,” added Goldman.
Several champions from past teams came out to see the race and help cheer Heber to victory.“It was very special to have the fans we had to share the wins with us,” said Goldman.
Page 2 of 2 - “Generations were there together. Many calls from well-wishers were also very appreciated. It was special that past state champion team members took time out to be a part of such a wonderful day.”