Gracie Hyde won six individual track state championships for Lonoke as a junior, but she will spend her senior year as a Benton Panther.

At the Class 6A school, she said she hoped to be pushed more as she pursues a college track scholarship.

“I’m excited about it because I think it’s going to make me better,” she said of the move. “It’s a bigger school, and it will give me more competition that will push me to do better. I won’t just be able to go out and win everything.

“They have a big cross country and track team. I was the only girl running cross country at Lonoke.”

As a sophomore, Hyde won Class 4A outdoor titles in the 800 and 1,600 for Brookland.

After transferring to Lonoke for her junior year, she won the Class 4A state cross country individual title, covering 5,000 meters in 19:47.5. She added titles in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 in the Class 4A/1A division of the Arkansas State High School Indoor Track and Field Championships in February and the 800 and 1,600 outdoors in May.

Indoors, Hyde won the 800 in 2:31.40; the 1,600 in 5:38.57; and the 3,200 in 11:47.93. She finished third in the 400 in 1:02.59.

Outdoors, she won the 800 in 2:19.65 and the 1,600 in 5:28.07. She also finished second in the 3,200 (12:26.18).

Hyde went on to finish sixth in the 800 meters at the Meet of Champions at Russellville, running 2:22.19.

Lonoke coach Angela Watson said Hyde’s one year as a Jackrabbit had left a legacy.

“I had several more seventh graders than usual wanting to do distance running because of her,” Watson said. “She would talk to them and encourage them to stick with it. Track is one of those sports that a lot of them get away from when they get to high school because there are so many other things going on.”

Hyde comes from a distance background. Her father, Steve, said he still held the Jonesboro High School record in the 3,200 (9:43). He later ran for Arkansas State.

“I’m excited for her,” Steve Hyde said. “She works so hard at it. She quit basketball so she can just train for cross country and track right now. She’s running three times the miles she was last year.

“I think this year in cross country, with the miles she’s putting in — her best last year was 19:14, and I think she’ll be running in the 17s this year.”

Hyde said she had upped her training to about 45 miles per week this summer. There are “lots of hills” in Benton.

She will take an unofficial visit to Alabama on Thursday, July 13, and will go on an official visit to Kentucky in August. She said Arkansas coach Lance Harter had also been recruiting her, as has Texas A&M.

“I had some other offers, but I decided I want to go to a big-time college,” she said, adding that she hoped to make her decision before the November signing period.

She finished 23rd in the 2,000-meter steeplechase (7:27.01) in the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in June in just her second time to run the steeplechase.

“I had to qualify for it,” she said. “I definitely want to continue doing steeplechase. I know I could do better.”

Hyde spent the second semester of her seventh-grade year at Lonoke, where she was introduced to track by Watson and former Lonoke coach Nathan Morris.

“I always knew I wanted to run distance,” she said. “Initially, I went to a private school next to a church, and we didn’t have sports, so I was excited when I moved to Lonoke. I told Coach Watson I wanted to do distance, but she put me in the 400. At the Lonoke meet, one of the girls decided she didn’t want to run the 800, and I’d been begging to all year.

“Coach Watson said, ‘OK, Hyde, you want it, you’ve got it.’ And I won. That’s how I knew I wanted to run distance. That’s what I was good at. I was OK in the 400, but I wasn’t winning.”

Reminded of that incident Sunday, Watson chuckled.

“She will do anything,” she said. “Gracie was going to try her best.”

But she didn’t start training seriously until her sophomore year. As a junior, she led the Lady Jackrabbits to a fourth-place finish in the Class 4A State Track and Field Championships at Paragould — the best finish in Watson’s five-year tenure atop the program.

Although excited for the future at Benton, Hyde said her year at Lonoke was special.

“Coming back to Lonoke was really enjoyable,” she said. “The people were really great. It’s such a close-knit community. Everyone wants you to do well, even people you don’t know. Lonoke is not the typical little town. People are really close, and that’s what I liked about it.”

So even though she’ll be a Panther, she’ll be rooting for the Jackrabbits?

“Of course.”