CAVE CITY The Cave City Cavemen, just a year removed from their first time to compete as a cross-country team on the state level, are the kings of Class 4A.
Cave City won the state championship during the state meet on the infield of Oaklawn Racing & Gaming in Hot Springs. Cave City finished with 68 points. Perennial power and three-time defending state champion Heber Springs was second with 71 points. Huntsville was third with 74 points.
Cave City freshman Luke Walling finished second in the individual standings with a time of 17 minutes, 3.4 seconds. Heber Springs’ Parker Ables won the race with a time of 16:49.9.
Walling’s teammate junior Kendall Townsley finished third with a time of 17:20.7. Senior Marcus Rudick was sixth with a time of 17:46.4, and freshman Caleb Anderson was ninth with a time of 17:56.
Jacob Rudick was 52nd with a time of 19.51.4.
First-year Cave City head cross-country coach Brandon Hailing was proud of his squad in its second year of running at state. The Cavemen finished ninth a year ago. This is Hailing’s third year coaching at Cave City.
“Last year was the first year we actually got to go to state,” he said. “We took five individuals.”
Cave City also won its conference championship, placing first out of four teams.
“We knew fairly early in the season that we’d have a chance to win the state championship,” Hailing said. “We probably knew at our fourth meet. That was our first meet that we won, and it was at Heber Springs. At the time, Heber Springs was ranked No. 1. After that meet, we were trying to figure out if we had the right guys and the right placing through points. We kept working on it week by week and kept getting better and better.”
Cave City hosted the conference meet, which was the first time the school had hosted a meet, Hailing said.
“It was the first year the conference had a meet,” he said.
Prior to the state meet, Hailing said that Heber Springs would be the favorite.
“They’ve got all the state history, the prestige going into it,” he said. “We knew we had to have our fifth-place guy, Jacob Rudick, place as high as he could. That way, we could keep it within close competition. Then we needed our top four guys to all place within the Top 10 to give us a chance. It came down to the wire.”
The race is 5,000 meters long.
“Before the race, we were all a little anxious,” Hailing said. “We tried to get excited about it. We were trying to focus on the race itself. Right before it was announced that we won it, we were sitting in the camp. Everyone had their phones pulled up, looking at the live results. Everybody kept telling everyone to refresh their browsers. I’ve been at meets where the live results are inaccurate, and they will jump point totals.”
Hailing said Cave City assistant coach Jeremy Cude then received a phone call that the Cavemen were state champions.
“The camp just blew up,” Hailing said. “It was kind of like Christmas.”
Walling is proud of his individual accomplishment.
“It was pretty cool with that being my first state race and big race,” he said. “Walking into the meet, we knew we were a little confident about it. We had a few guys step up and make little speeches. It got everybody a little pumped. We went out there and tried to run to the best of our ability.”
Walling ran cross country in junior high prior to this season.
“The past two years, I’ve run junior high,” he said. “I’ve watched these guys (Townsley and Marcus Rudick) run all the time. I knew what I had to do coming into the season, and I knew what the team expected of me.”
Townsley finished second in 2016 with a time of 17:02.6. This year, he was 17 seconds behind Walling.
“We usually run right together,” Townsley said of him and Walling. “He got me that day. It was still a great race. It was great to finish third, and it was great to win state as a team.”
Marcus Rudick said that being a senior, this was his last chance at a state title in cross country.
“I knew we were going to do it,” he said. “It just had to happen because of all the work we had put into it.”
Walling and Townsley both said they would like the Cavemen to repeat as state champions in 2018.
Walling said he’d like to win the individual honor next year.
“There is a possibility that either Kendall or I could get that top spot,” he said, “but I’m going to try to do the best that I can.”
Hailing said everyone on the team is on a two-week break following the state meet.
“Then we’ll hit track practice with some light mileage and start building our base back up,” he said. “We’ll work on some form drills, trying to get these guys back in shape for track season.”
Prior to the cross-country season, the runners start in the summer running, trying to build their base for what they will do during the season, Hailing said.
“Then we focus on the first half of the season, which is effort-based training on a hill, a lot of dynamic running,” he said. “We’ll do a lot of tempo runs. This is based on effort and not on times. The second half of the season, we stress trying to hit times. We try to get these guys to hit PRs (personal records). That is how I do my training. I’m more stressed about them hitting their times than I am about points or meet places.
“If they are able to hit their times, the rest of it should fall in line.”
Staff writer Mark Buffalo can be reached at (501) 399-3676 or firstname.lastname@example.org.