Eagles going after back-to-back titles

Freshman Alex Cornelison runs earlier this season at Shiloh Christian.

The Huntsville boys cross-country team on Saturday will look to repeat as state champions when the State Meet is held at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

Last year the 4A boys ran the final race, which took place on a muddy and sloppy course. This year, 4A will be the first class on the course, beginning at 9 a.m. on Saturday.

The Huntsville girls also head to state on Saturday.

Huntsville finished with 43 points last year to win the state title. De Queen (61), Pea Ridge (134), Berryville (135) and Harrison (185) rounded out the top five.

The Eagles finished third in 2017 and second the year before.

Huntsville’s Jacob Braswell was second at state last year as a sophomore with a time of 17:30.1, while senior Colton Edens was fourth at 17:34.2. Jett Loenneke was seventh at 18:14.8 while Tanner Barbee finished 10th at 18:32.3. Loenneke and Barbee are seniors this year.

The Huntsville boys won their own invitational then the 4A-1 District in consecutive weeks last month. Coach Kaleb Houston said the boys at District were “super hungry. The best race we’ve probably had all season.”

Braswell won both races. He and teammates Barbee and Loenneke were All-Conference with top-10 finishes.

Freshman Alex Cornelison finished 13th, classmate Mark Barksdale was 18th, Oscar Martinez-Cruz 19th, Matthew Sisk 26th and another freshman, Luke Jones was 35th.

Bobbie Johnson finished seventh and was All-Conference for the girls, who finished third at District. Johnson hurt her knee and likely won’t run in the state race.

“I was proud of the girls, they ran hard, too,” Houston said. “They were a little outmatched in our conference, but they did the best they could and got third place. I was proud of that.”

Lauren Rogers was 15th, Cora Copeland 24th, Gladys Braswell 26th, Ingrid Kirk 28th and Searsha Chambers 30th.

Houston said the District was this year’s best race for the boys so far as “time-wise and effort-wise.”

“We’ve had two or three but we haven’t had all five or six [runners]. We’ve won some and we’ve been really close in some, but we went out and just really, Pea Ridge was third and we beat them by like 20 points. We took care of business.”

Cornelison improved virtually every week this season.

“He did great. Him and Mark [Barksdale], Luke’s [Jones] still trying to get healthy again. They were really good runners last year, but Alex has really stepped it up. I wasn’t expecting that. From a freshman, that’s a pretty big spot to fill. He’s consistently been finishing fourth for us, so that’s pretty good for a ninth-grader. He ran strong, he did the best he could.”

Houston said De Queen and Valley View look to be tough on Saturday. Virtual matches on the Internet have the two and Huntsville making up the top three teams on Saturday.

“Its very close right now. I think if we just go over there and if everyone is healthy and does their best we have a really good shot at it. It’ll be really close, though.

The Huntsville teams will make a weekend of the state races.

“We’ll go down Friday and stay the night and then make sure they’re well-rested and wake up early. They’re used to running early on Saturday mornings, so I don’t think that’ll be a problem,” Houston said.

The second-year coach also hopes the course is better than a year ago.

“It was a mess last year. It was sloppy, muddy, but we ran in that,” he said.

Houston said there really isn’t much the team can do between now and Saturday’s race, other than focus on themselves.

“We’re not really trying to improve at this point, we’re just trying to tune into where we think we should be,” he said.

“They’re hungry, they run hard every meet. We’re just doing what we’ve been doing all year, just trying to improve a little bit and keep them healthy and go out there and hopefully try to get another one [state win].”

Houston said Braswell, though just a junior, is running in an elite class.

“He’s stepped it up this year. He was kind of in Colton’s [Edens] shadow last year, Colton was the leader. He’s [Braswell] been our number one from the first practice to everything,” Houston said.

“He brings everyone to another level, because if you can keep up with him in practice or in meets, you’re going to be up there at the top. He’s never satisfied.”

Houston said Braswell “proved his point that ‘I’m the best in the conference.’”

Braswell’s second-place finish last year may have him hungry on Saturday for more.

“I know that’s got to be in the back of his mind, trying to get first overall in the state.”

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