Conway Christian’s cross country program is on new ground this season.
Conway Christian added cross country this year, and five runners are considered to be the charter members for the program as they compete against other schools under the Arkansas Activities Association.
"We knew last year that we were going to add two athletic programs," Conway Christian Athletic Director Chuck Speer said. "We added cross country and tennis. The thing about our cross country team, I really believe these guys have a chance to win a state title, outside of some schools that don’t have football, just cross country like Crowley’s Ridge."
The Eagles have not only run against some of the top established programs in the state, including Conway and Lake Hamilton, but they’ve competed. Although there are five runners that fill the roster spots, Conway Christian coach Ashley Nance, believes the group has talent and potential.
"We’re young," Nance said. "We have a couple of ninth-graders and sophomores. We had to move the ninth-graders up to run with the high school varsity team, so that we can have enough. These guys have worked hard this season. A couple of them are basketball players, so they’re trying to get in a little extra shape for basketball. So they’re trying to kill two birds with one stone."
For team members Lance Beckman, Matthew Bowlin, Ethan Ellis, Will Henley, and Cody Wallace, the small group is like a small brotherhood.
"Nobody understands how hard these guys work," Speer said. "They’re here before we get to school at a 7 a.m., and they’re here before all of the students. All of these guys are good students and each of the have a good GPA. They’re good students and they’re improving in cross country. I treat those guys like my sons."
The Eagles got thrown into the fire against some of the toughest runners in the state during their first cross country meet a couple of weeks in the Josh Park Memorial Cross Country Meet-5K run. The Eagles finished third in the 1A-4A division. Beckman, a sophomore medalist this season, placed fourth on his first time out with a time of 20:34.31. Bowlin is the lone senior on the roster.
"Coach Speer doesn’t treat these guys any different than the basketball team," Nance said, who coaches girls’ high school basketball. "He shows a lot of respect for these guys because he knows that they work as hard as anybody else.
At the Cyclone Invitational in Russellville, Beckman finished 20th overall out of 207 runners. His time of 17:47.79 earned him a medal.
"He’s good," Nance said. "He’s our fastest runner on the team and he’s right there with everybody else at the bigger schools. He definitely has a bright future in cross country.