For the fourth time in less than ten years, the Heber Springs boys have achieved one of the rarest feats in Arkansas high school athletics – the triple crown sweep of cross country, indoor, and outdoor track and field state championships.
Heber Springs, already the only team in the state with three triple crowns to its name, pushed its total to four on Tuesday, completing the season sweep with a blowout win at the 4A state outdoor track and field meet in Paragould. The Panthers racked up 93.5 points, nearly double the total of second-place Ashdown (48), for the school's third consecutive outdoor state title and its sixth in the last seven years.
The Panthers accomplished their first triple crown during the 2010-11 school year. Since then, Heber Springs has won it in every even-yeared season (2012-13, 2014-15, 2016-17).
“That's a big feat, especially for our distance runners because you have to do cross-country first, but this was an all-around performance,” said head coach Dale Cresswell, winner of multiple Coach of the Year awards during his tenure at Heber Springs.
Heber's distance runners, who completed the first leg of the triple crown late last year with a cross-country state title, finished in four out of the top five spots in the 1600m on Tuesday to combine for more than a quarter of the Panthers' total points. Sophomore Parker Ables (4:29.68) won the event, while senior Jesse Applewhite (4:34.07), who ran neck-and-neck with Ables for most of the race, finished second, freshman Trenton Barnes (4:48.44) came in fourth, and junior Lane Carter (4:51.04) rounded out the top five.
All four – along with Beau Tucker and Gregory Simmons – are among six Panthers who competed on every leg of the triple crown run.
“We're blessed with distance runners,” said Cresswell. “When you can go from fourth to first after one race, that's pretty good.”
The four also combined to make up the Panthers' signature 4x800m relay team (8:32.18), which beat out second-place Mena (8:41.53) for another ten points.
Ables (10:28.10) won the 3200m by a wide margin, while Carter (10:58.65) finished seventh.
Applewhite (1:58.30), one of the state's premier 800m runners this season, used the final leg of the race for a come-from-behind, first-place photo finish over Shiloh Christian's Joe Schroeder (1:58.33).
“He showed a lot of guts getting passed around the curve coming into the straightaway and then beating the guy by three-hundredths of a second,” said Cresswell.
Ables (2:09.22), Heber's high-scorer for the day (26), finished third in the 800m. Carter also scored in the event, placing eighth overall (2:14.20).
Sophomore JaQuan Dunaway finished top-3 in both sprints, placing second (11.22) behind Ashdown's Ladarius Bishop (10.94) in the 100m and third in the 200m (22.69).
Dunaway, along with Andrew Engel, Justin Feemster, and Pierce Mitchum, competed on the Panthers' third-place 4x100m relay team (43.98). Feemster also scored in the 110m hurdles (8th, 17.00) and high jump (6th, 5-08).
Senior Luke McGowan was only other Panther to score in a field event, finishing fifth overall in the shot put with a throw of 48-03.
The Heber Springs girls team (34) finished sixth overall on Tuesday. Pocahontas (89) won the meet by three points over Crossett (86).
The Lady Panthers' Millie Wilson (5:53.97) and Grace Lehfeldt (5:55.23) finished fourth and fifth respectively in the 1600m.
Lehfeldt (13:04.19) placed fourth in the 3200m, while teammate Ali Jones (13:21.28) finished sixth.
Senior Ashley Patchell scored in the pole vault (5th, 8-06), while senior Sara Davis (4th, 97-02) added more points in the discus.
Heber's 4x800m relay team of Jones, Lehfeldt, Wilson, and Hailey Southerland (10:45.80) finished second behind Pocahontas (10:32.23).
Cresswell, whose classroom is lined with countless trophies and awards, says he's optimistic about his team's chances to break the even-year triple crown streak next season.
“I think we can, but it's going to be harder. We lose four good seniors (Applewhite, Mitchum, Feemster, McGowan) who all scored for us,” Cresswell said. “Hopefully some of these ninth-graders come up and do a better job. Landon Johnson last night ran a 55.0 in the 4x400 relay. That's great for a ninth-grader.”
Dunaway and Ables, current sophomores, will likely be relied upon to lead the team next season.
“JaQuan [Dunaway] is going to get bigger, going to get stronger. It's to the point where there's no telling what he can do,” said Cresswell. “Parker [Ables] has that self-driven attitude that he's going to continue to lower his times. There's a lot of things we can do with kids like that.”
As for now, what's next for the Panthers' head coach?
“I'm going to Disneyworld,” Cresswell said.