The GHS Lady Bulldogs varsity cross country team brought home the gold last weekend, winning the Class 5A state title at Hot Springs’ Oaklawn Park. It was the 38th girls championship awarded by the Arkansas Activities Association and the first in school history. The team is coached by Jim Andrews.
Greenwood won the crown with a combined team score of 65, ahead of Lake Hamilton (107), Siloam Springs (113), Hot Springs Lakeside (118), and fifth place Russellville (123) in the 16-team field featuring 144 individual runners. As in golf, the lowest score wins in cross country over the 5000-meter (5K) course.
The Lady Bulldogs had five runners compete and all five finished in the top 26, including three girls in the top ten and two in the top four. Participants included senior Taylor Koeth, junior Macie Cash, and three freshmen, Madelyn Wilkinson, Ashley Koeth, and Kaitlynne Elmore.
Macie Cash finished second for Greenwood with a time of 19:18.20, ten seconds behind first place finisher Marcie Cudworth of Mountain Home. Taylor Koeth ran fourth overall with a time of 19:44.00, eleven seconds behind third place Olivia Pielemeier of Lake Hamilton and 26 seconds behind Cash.
While the two GHS upperclassmen finished in the top four, the three Greenwood freshmen made sure no other squad could catch them for the team championship. Wilkinson ran 10th with a time of 20:31.10, while the younger Koeth finished in 25th place (21:36.70) and Elmore ran 26th (21:43.60).
“Last weekend was the [result] of a lot of hard work paying off,” said Coach Andrews. “Our girls ran the best races of their season. Macie Cash ran a great race and finished 2nd and [senior] Taylor Koeth ended her cross country career with a 4th place finish. We had [freshman] Madelyn Wilkinson in 10th place as well, and all three girls are All-State [performers].
“Our four and five girls, Ashley Koeth and Kaitlynne Elmore, also did an outstanding job keeping other teams at bay and finishing in the top 26,” said Andrews. It’s worth noting that all but one runner from this year’s championship team will return for the Lady Bulldogs next year.
“We started this process in June, but really it started at the end of the track season last [spring] with a goal-setting meeting by the girls. They each wrote their individual and team goals, and several wrote as a goal to win conference and state, and both [goals] were achieved,” explained the coach.
“I felt we had the talent to make a run for the title, but as we all know, there may be someone that surprises you in the end. Once the race week got here, I felt we had a good mindset going into it. The girls were focused but relaxed,” said Andrews.
“By the end of the season our senior girls had won their last three meets, and were picked by ArMilesplits for the upset to win the state title from Lake Hamilton. Our girls only needed that to push through and bring the first ever state cross country championship to Greenwood High School,” he added with obvious pride.
But the Lady Bulldogs weren’t the only ones from Greenwood to compete. The GHS boys also participated and exceeded expectations with a very young squad. The varsity Bulldogs finished seventh overall with 187 points. Mountain Home (30) and Lake Hamilton (54) ran away from the rest of the field for first and second, respectively.
“Our senior high boys did an unbelievable job at state as well,” said Andrews. “Noah Embrey was 11th and earned All-State. The team finished better than predicted, and we had six of nine runners set personal records for the season as well,” he added.
Also competing for the GHS boys was freshman Josuha Merritt in 21st place (17:34.20), along with junior Nick Lewis and freshman Gavin Ciesla, 48th and 49th, respectively. Sophomore Jordan Owens was 68th, senior Vincent Gonzales ran 73rd, junior Trey Smith finished 108th, Trey Merreighn was 115th, and Riley Farr was 119th.
“Another positive is that we only graduate one senior, and [our] top five runners are all underclassmen. We have a bright future with the guys, and I feel the win by the girls will create an urgency to improve on what the boys have done,” said the coach.
“All these [kids] work together at the same time, so they really encourage and help motivate each other in practice. The bottom line is that these runners deserve everything they have worked for. We start in June logging 20-50 mile weeks. We run after school in August when it’s blazing hot, so we keep them coming out with popsicles and Gatorade. That’s small encouragement considering a six-mile workout.
“I’m super proud of all the attention they receive,” said Andrews. “If people are interested to know more about what we do, they can always contact me. I love talking about running and how to lay out a plan to make young runners faster and stronger.”