PRAIRIE GROVE -- In the absence of a fierce rivalry, Prairie Grove junior Beka Bostian found her own inspiration and charged first across the finish line with a time of 20:03.9.
With the victory, Beka claimed her second individual Class 4A girls cross country championship in three years. She won the race as a freshman in 20:07, then placed second to Lonoke's Gracie Hyde in 2016.
The rivalry carried over into the spring at the state track and field meet held at Pocahontas May 2. Beka's father, Keith Bostain, who serves as both an assistant cross country coach as well as assistant track and field coach, developed a strategy that propelled her past Hyde.
During a conversation with a Greenland coach, Keith was told, "Maybe, you don't run her in the 3200 next week," and suggested having Beka run shorter races such as the 800 and 400 meters to increase her speed. Keith took that advice and the following week found himself standing side-by-side with the Greenland coach with a race in progress as Beka and a Greenland runner sprinted stride for stride.
"He's yelling at his girl, 'keep up with her,' and I'm yelling at Beka, 'get away from her,'" Keith said laughing at the irony. "Both coaches want both girls to get better."
Beka went on to beat Hyde twice in the spring, including the 3200 4A State finals.
"It's a lot easier when there's a girl right next to you," Beka said. "It's a lot easier than just competing against yourself."
Looking back at the state 3200 meter, Beka said, "I was trying to outdo her before we got to the final stretch because I know she has a better kick than I do. I tried to wear her down the first six laps."
Over the summer Hyde transferred to Benton, a Class 6A school -- leaving what Prairie Grove head cross country coach Daren Chandler describes as a something of a void.
"It helps to have a rival like that," Chandler said. "The way cross country works she's racing against some of the big schools like Rogers and Bentonville. Some of the big schools have a couple of girls that can keep up with her and push Beka, but it definitely helps to have that rival in 4A. She won the 4A state (cross country) meet going away. There was a girl from West Fork (Kendall Hays) that pushed her a little bit then she just kind of faded away. Nobody else was even close."
Beka wasn't about to let up, saying she was expecting to go a little faster but might have diminished her chances of that by sprinting too much at the beginning.
"For the first mile I had one girl, who stuck with me," Beka said. "After that I had to push myself, it was also really hot outside."
Still, Beka maintained the lead and drew inspiration from other sources.
"Sometimes I hear people cheering for the girls behind me, that makes me think they're catching up," Beka said. "I hear my dad and my coaches, some of the other kids on the team. They help me a lot, that keeps me going."
Nobody gained on her, even when Beka experienced a slight burnout nearing the stretch run going uphill.
"It's kind of tough having to sprint up that hill," Beka said.
Keith wants her to envision that Hyde is in the race.
"I still want her (Beka) to run races like she (Hyde) is still there," Keith said. "She won by 20 seconds this year, nobody pushed her."
Beka admits she listens for his vocal inspiration.
"Whenever I hear him screaming for me, well it's not really screaming, but it always sticks out over everyone else," Beka said. Then she turns to her father, "Not because you yell loud, but because I'm listening for it."
Bobbie Johnson, a freshman from Huntsville, finished second in 20:22.4. Hays was third in 20:43.1.
"Beka is just exceptionally gifted," Chandler said. "But most of her results comes from her work ethic. She's always hanging out after practice and doing something extra. Sometimes you have to reel her back a little bit to let her take a day off and get rested. She's like that way in all aspects of her life. She gets every single assignment completed and she is meticulous about doing things."
Chandler said Beka challenges boys on the cross country team during workouts.
"She manages to train against guys in practice, she finds ways to push herself," Chandler said.
Prairie Grove finished fifth in the team standings with 179. Heber Springs claimed the team title with a score of 127. West Fork was second with a 131. Pottsville placed third with 154. Pea Ridge was fourth with 166.Sports on 01/10/2018
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