Heber Springs set the new gold standard for track and field in the state of Arkansas by running away with the 4A state outdoor meet on Thursday at Panther Stadium. The championship capped the Panthers' journey to their second Triple Crown ¬ a feat not accomplished by any other school regardless of classification.
A steady rain could not deter the battle tested Panthers. “No school has ever done it,” said Panther Coach Dale Cresswell, whose guided the Heber boys to 10 state championships since 2006 and eight over the past three years, including three outdoor titles. “We are the only school to have won it twice in the state of Arkansas. There has been four schools win it [Triple Crown] one time and we were one of the four. This is the first time any school in the state of Arkansas has won twice,” added Cresswell.
Rogers, Russellville and De Queen have each won the Triple Crown once.
The Panthers rolled up 116 points to cruise past runner-up Nashville (67) by 46 points. Pine Bluff Dollarway took third with 61 points.
“Pine Bluff Dollarway has a great team. We saw that in conference,” said Cresswell. “Coming into a state meet it's always going to be a little different because you don't know about other people from places like northwest Arkansas and stuff like that.”
Senior Ethan Bly, who turned 18 on Thursday, won the high point award with 40.5 points. After signing to compete for UCA the previous day, Bly had an exceptional birthday, winning the 100 (11.06), 200 (22.59), 400 (51.00), placing runner-up in the Long Jump ( 21' 9.5”) and running a leg for the 4x400 relay team, which won first place with a time of 3:30.55.
Ironically, Bly aggravated a hamstring injury near the beginning of last year's state meet. This year fellow senior standout, Clint Ligon, entered the meet with a nagging injury that had limited his ability over the past month.
“I think last year Ethan scored five points in state because he was hurt and Clint scored 46,” said Cresswell. “It flip-flopped because we have two great seniors. Ethan was the 100-meter champion as a sophomore, but with Clint we were iffy whether he could even run today. For him to come in and score 18 points that is a great job by him.”
Ligon won the 110 hurdles (15.44) and took second in the 300 hurdles (40.02.)
Although Bly and Ligon have carried the Panthers over the past three years, Heber relies heavily on a steady dose of talented distance runners. Senior Andrew Powell and juniors Brock Ballard and Austin Schmidt spearhead this year's group of standout distance runners.
Powell, Schmidt and Ballard have played a large role in helping the Panthers reach eight state championships over the past three years. That run includes three cross country championships, three indoor state crowns and two outdoor titles.
Page 2 of 2 - “We may go down a little bit with the sprinters next year but I think the distance runners are going to keep us in the hunt,” said Cresswell. “We've got some good ones coming up from ninth grade.”
Ballard placed runner-up in the 1600 (4:39.14), fourth in the 800 (2:06.94) and sixth in the 3200 (10:54.06) ¬ in front of teammates Powell (7th, 10:57.29) and senior Devin Redding (8th, 10:59.03).
Senior Zack McArthur took fifth in the 800 (2:07.61) behind Ballard, while sophomore Malachi Cannon finished fifth in the 1600 (4:45.84), approximately two seconds ahead of Powell (10:57.29), who came across the finish line roughly two seconds in front of senior Devin Redding (8th, 10:59.03).
Heber's 4x400 relay team consisting of Bly, senior Jorge Garcia, senior Daniel Henley and Schmidt won their race with a time of 3:30.55 and Heber's 4x800 relay team of Ballard, Garcia, Schmidt and McArthur won their race with a mark of 8:31.23.
Rounding out Heber's scoring total, senior Derrik Fisher (43' 3”) placed eighth in the Shot Put.
The Panthers qualified seven athletes for the Meet of Champs scheduled for May 11 at Lake Hamilton in Pearcy.
Bly (100, 200, 400, 4x400), Ligon (110 and 300 hurdles), Ballard (1600), Garcia (relay), Daniel Henley (relay), Schmidt (relay) and McArthur (relay) will represent Heber Springs at the prestigious meet that includes all of the state champions from seven classifications.