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story.lead_photo.caption Graham Thomas/Siloam Sunday Siloam Springs cross country runners listen as head coach Sharon Jones gives instructions during practice on Monday, Aug. 6, at the Simmons Course.

Once school let out in May, offseason for the Siloam Springs cross country teams began.

The Panthers and Lady Panthers began practicing three days a week right after school let out. After the Arkansas Activities Association dead period ended on July 8, those workouts increased to four days a week.

Siloam Springs cross country

2018 schedule

Date^Opponent^Time

Sept. 8^Minuteman in Little Rock^8:30 a.m.

Sept. 11^Trinity Catholic^TBA

Sept. 15^Siloam Springs XC Classic^9 a.m.

Sept. 22^Chile Pepper in Fayetteville^11 a.m.

Sept. 29^Berryville^9:30 a.m.

Oct. 4^Greenwood^4 p.m.

Oct. 16^Huntsville (HS only)^3:30 p.m.

Oct. 18^Bentonville (JH only)^4:15 p.m.

Oct. 25^5A-West Meet at Siloam Springs^3:30 p.m.

Nov. 2^5A State Meet^9 a.m.

Nov. 10^Ark.-Okla. All-Star Meet^TBA

With the season less than a month away, both teams are gearing up as the Lady Panthers shoot for their fifth-straight state title and the boys hope to improve on last season's fourth place finish.

"We've got a lot of work to do," SSHS cross country coach Sharon Jones said. "We're just now starting to run shorter intervals and working on our speed and our pacing. We've basically been trying to get in miles this summer and build that good, strong aerobic base. From now on you'll start seeing us do more shorter stuff a couple days a week and try and get them faster. We'll see."

Changes are afoot though. Siloam Springs will no longer compete with just the second-largest group of 16 schools in Class 6A. The largest 16 schools in Arkansas will now be 6A and the next 32 teams, including Siloam Springs, will be Class 5A.

That means more competitive teams all gunning for the same prize. The Class 5A state meet will be held at 9 a.m. Nov. 2 at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs.

"It is going to get tougher," Jones said. "I've looked and there's some schools that are going to be good. Little Rock Christian, Vilonia -- there's two or three girls teams that if I added up the scores with what we bring back and what they bring back, we're within five points of three teams. It's going to be close. We're going to have to work for it.

"Our boys are sitting first in the (5A-West) conference right now if you just had those boys, but once you throw in (five-time defending state champion) Lake Hamilton, who isn't going to be in our conference, they run away with it. I feel like we're third or fourth talent-wise, but you never know."

The Lady Panthers lost three of their top five finishers from last year's state meet. Allika Pearson graduated, while Chloe Maxwell moved back to the Philippines and Ashlyn Walker moved back to California, Jones said.

"That hurt us," Jones said. "But we're OK."

Seniors Chloe McGooden, who finished ninth overall at state last year, and Brittany Pilcher, who was 13th, both return for the Lady Panthers.

Siloam Springs also returns state meet veterans in junior Rebekah Rodgers (21st), Claudia Mercado (34th), Kailey Pentz (51st) and sophomore Sydney Moorman (24th).

The Lady Panthers added sophomore track standout Quincy Efurd and junior Candy Dubon, who was one of the team's top runners as a freshman but decided not to participate last season.

Jones said in the Lady Panthers' first three time trials of summer practice, three different Lady Panthers finished first in Pilcher, Efurd and McGooden, who also won the fourth time trial this past week.

"Those girls are all running close together," she said. "Those girls will come in within 45 seconds of each other. That's a pretty tight group. The thing is they all want it."

Jones said one thing she harped on both teams with recently has been "buying in" to the program.

"Our girls are bought in," she said. "Our girls are at practice. Our girls know how to push themselves"

The boys, however, are a different story.

"Our boys are inexperienced at winning," Jones said. "It's just like they don't have that drive, that self-initiative to actually push on when they get tired. They sort of spread out when they get tired instead of pushing forward and trying to stay together. We don't have that core group up front."

But Jones is optimistic the boys can find the inner push they're needing in the next few weeks.

The Panthers return five runners from their state team in 2017.

Junior Kerrig Kelly (11th overall) leads the group, and Samuel Granderson (19th) is the team's only senior.

"Samuel will be one of our top runners, but he hikes all summer," Jones said. "He showed up last week and he looked good. I was excited. Kerrig is our top guy."

Sophomores Blake Morrison (50th) and Michael Capehart (52nd) and junior Adam Kennedy (50th) also return from last year's state team.

Jones expects junior Tyler Sharp to move into the front of the pack as well.

"We've really been trying to pump up Tyler, because Tyler could really make a difference this year," she said.

Jones added that sophomores Luke Fields and Andy Almanza have both shown improvement during the preseason.

The Panthers and Lady Panthers are scheduled to run their first meet of the season at the Minuteman 5K run in Little Rock, which is an incentive meet for the runners. A goal time must be met in practice in order to qualify for the meet. Through this week, McGooden, Pilcher, Efurd, Moorman, Dubon and Rodgers had qualified on the girls side, while Kerrig and Capehart had made the mark on the boys side.

The annual Siloam Springs Cross Country Classic will be held at 9 a.m. Sept. 15 on the grounds of Simmons Foods.

Sports on 08/12/2018

Print Headline: Cross country teams still 'have work to do'

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