“It's a Heber Springs Day” proclaimed the public address announcer as the Panthers sent four of the top 10 runners across the finish line led by seniors Jorge Garcia and Andrew Powell, who finished fourth and fifth individually.
The Panthers completed the 5K race with a total of 26 points, capturing the Class 4A state by a dominating margin of 63 points over runner-up Valley View (89) on a breezy 70-degree Saturday afternoon at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.
Heber won its fifth state title over the past eight years, also earning championships in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010 under Coach Dale Cresswell. “Jorge did an outstanding job for us today. He has missed a couple of meets because of band but we knew that was going to happen,” said Cresswell.
“He has been working hard in practice and showed a lot of leadership for us today. He and Andrew both showed a lot of leadership. Andrew had been hurt for a couple of weeks and not practicing much but he came out and ran a good race and Jorge ran his fastest time of the year. ”
As customary, Powell started in the middle of the pack but came on strong down the stretch. “Andrew does that in every race he races in even if it's two-mile in track,” said Cresswell. “He likes to pass people. He likes to start out slow and build up his time.”
Garcia's time of 17:31.7 paced the Panthers, while Powell followed closely at 17:52.7. Juniors Brock Ballard (7th, 18:11.2) and Austin Schmidt (8th, 18:17.1) also placed in the top 10. Senior Devin Redding (12th, 18:34.2) and rounded out Heber's five-player total of 26.
Freshmen Hunter Drexler (14th, 18:51.8) and Patrick Hill (15th, 18:52.9) served as the Panthers' displacers, just ahead of sophomore Malachi Cannon (16th, 18:54.1).
Cresswell said he was glad to be back at Oaklawn Park for the championships. The races were held in Harrison last year when Heber placed runner-up to De Queen, which has since moved up to Class 5A.
“It was a little windy today but not too bad,” said Cresswell. “We've been to some state meets where it has been raining and we have been to some where it is so cold you can't hardly stand it. Today was a very pretty day and not a bad day to run.
“I would rather have it here than anywhere else. Last year Harrison was a very challenging course with a lot of hills. Personally, I didn't like it and I don't think my kids liked it. Here at Oaklawn it is more fan-friendly. It's wide open so the fans can watch the race. We enjoy coming here. We come here for an invitational meet every year. It's a good place to run.”
Pea Ridge (90) placed third in state, one point behind Valley View, while Arkadelphia took fourth (95), Berryville fifth (130), Gentry sixth (144), Waldron seventh (158), Central Arkansas Christian eighth (215) and Southside Batesville ninth (261).
Page 2 of 2 - During the awards ceremony, Pea Ridge's runners were clamoring about Heber losing its top two runners ¬ Garcia and Powell. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, next year the Panthers return Ballard and Schmidt, whose times were better than their top two (11th, 13th). Plus, Heber has Drexler, Hill and Cannon back and they all placed in front of Pea Ridge's third best runner.
Valley View sophomore Carter Shelton won the individual title with a time of 16:37.3, Dover senior Carson Miller was runner-up (17:10.4) and Berryville freshman Oliver Perez took third (17:24.9).
The Panthers, who captured a Triple Crown in 2010, have that chance again this season with several top returnees for indoor and outdoor track. “Nashville is going to be a real powerhouse again this year like they always are,” said Cresswell, who also listed Valley View and Monticello as teams that could give Heber a run for their money.
The Panthers edged Nashville for last year's outdoor title.