Meet Recap: Lovejoy And Bentonville Roll At XC Fall Festival

Liam Dunleavy (Lovejoy) wins the Varsity Boys race in 16:07

It's promoted as "Run With The Best". 

Over the years, that has largely been the opinion of many coaches across the state about the Lovejoy XC Fall Festival. It provides some of the most competitive teams in Texas not to mention one of the more difficult courses in the state.

The 2023 edition was no different. In fact, it may have been one of the best editions of the meet's history. 

Today, the competition was top notch and the team races were absolutely superb with the individual races just as exciting. The weather this weekend was perhaps the best of the season as both races produced meet records for both of the elite races.

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Girls Recap

The first race of the day was the Elite Girls 5K. opined

We knew it was going to be a good one heading into it -- and it was. In my preview, I opined that 2022 NXN qualifier and sophomore Macy Wingard (Denton Braswell) would be the race pace setter, and that she was.

Wingard ran a 17:02 meet record for the win as she was 21 seconds ahead of the nearest competitor. That was the Arkansas 6A reigning defending state champion Haley Loewe (Bentonville).

Following Wingard and Loewe across the finish line were two girls who were both NXN qualifiers and state champs last year as members of the Lovejoy squad.

Sara Morefield was a front race runner throughout and Camryn Benson chased down girls in the back half of the race. Morefield and her 17:30 ushered Benson across in 17:31.

Katy Tompkins sophomore Rowan Saacke was the final runner under eighteen-minutes on the day as she finished in 17:39 for fifth place overall.

The Lovejoy girls get off the line after the gun

Photo credit:  Jessie McCabe/MileSplit TX

The girls team race had a multitude of CCCAT ranked teams including Texas UIL 5A back-to-back state champs Lovejoy and Arkansas five time consecutive state champs Bentonville.

Lovejoy was just as dominating today as they were weeks ago at Southlake. They only tallied 35 points in a race with over 230 runners. Morefield and Benson got run support from Kailey Littlefield (7th place), Peyton Benson (11th place), and Bridget Bernal (12th place). The win came as a result of a 17:59 team average.

The Northwest Nelson girls finished runner-up with a 18:55 team average and a 58 second team split. MJ NOvelli and Reyna Heisserer ran sub nineteen-minutes with their 18:16 and 18:45 runs.

The Arkansas champs were third with Loewe's runner-up, but Bentonville received support from Devyn O'Daniel and Everly O'Daniel both finishing under nineteen-minutes with their 18:42 and 18:54 runs.

Boys Recap

The boys race saw another Denton Braswell Bengal run to a win when Aleksandr Acuna took the boys race in 14:50. The junior won the Marcus Coach T Inv. two weeks ago with what was a state leading 14:58. 

He took off with winning intentions from the gun and the strides of Coppell's Henry Henze in tow. Mid-race, the push would come from Matthias Peterson (Northwest Nelson), but neither Henze or Peterson fazed Acuna could keep up. Acuna lowered his personal best and state leading mark by eight seconds to 14:50.

A swift 4:36 first mile was a good start to the brisk September morning, but his 9:43 second mile was what gave him space to operate within the race.

Abilene senior Andruw Villa is having another quality season. His year got a little better today with a 14:58 personal best enroute to his his runner-up finish. Villa didn't take out as hard as Acuna going through the mile at a moderate 4:50, but he kept pace with a 4:54 second mile.

Several guys who ran 14:30-14:40s at Southlake for the 3.06 distance were able show their sustained health and fitness with fifteen-minute low performances today. 

The big surprise of the day came from TAPPS runner Renne Cooper out of Austin Brentwood Christian Academy. The senior placed third overall and finished with a 15:06 personal best performance. He was the TAPPS 5A runner-up last fall and was trending after 4:23 and 9:33 PRs in the spring, but this performance speaks volumes about how this impactful he could be on the state scene the remainder of this season.

Bentonville boys get hyped prior to the race

Photo Credit: Jessie McCabe/MileSplit TX

The six consecutive Arkansas state championship winning Bentonville boys showed they are ready to seriously contend for an NXN berth this year. They won the meet with a 15:23 team average to take down a loaded field. James American Horse at 15:15 and Owen Kelley in 15:16 were the first two Arkansans across the line, but the rest of the team would soon cross in a hurry.

Eli Seavey would quickly follow with a time of 15:22, Matthew Shelly was two seconds back in 15:24, and Payton Brack complete the scoring with a time of 15:39. The top five runners sealed the deal with a impeccable 24 second split.

Bentonville wasn't the only team turning in sub sixteen-minute averages with lower than a minute splits. Fast and tight is the name of the game in this sport, but it's usually easier spewed than demonstrated. However, it was in the cards for several teams today.  

The host Lovejoy boys were second today with a 15:44 team average and a 34 second split. Caden Gary and Nick Yarad were the top two Leopards across the finish line as they ran for 15:28 and 15:31 with Joseph Reid adding the third sub sixteen-minute performance in 15:37.

Lovejoy relied on their depth today to secure the runner-up team finish today. William Carlson who is usually either their number one or two runner was afforded the ability to finish as the team's eighth place finisher.

Round Rock exhibited that they are primed for another state meet qualification this season. Their senior leadership from Kebede Kerlin and Christian Mathurin led the way going for runs of 15:25 and 15:35. Judsen Massey added his 15:37 run and in the end the remainder of the team finished with an awesome 41 second split.

Katy Tompkins rounded out the top four placing team. They're also looking forward to a return trip to the state meet and have been running well all season. The Falcons tacked on another impressive outing today going for a 15:48 average while tacking on a 40 second split.