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Prep cross country: Capital focused on MSAC championship

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With one last rehearsal, the Capital cross country team prepares for regional running with the Mountain State Athletic Conference Championship today.

The Cougars, as other teams, will look to use the race as one last event before next week's pivotal regional meets. Runners will make their final strides toward postseason with the MSAC Championship at Ripley's Cedar Lakes course as the girls race at 5 p.m. and the boys 5:40 p.m.

"I told them last week, I said we're getting down to the nitty gritty part of the season and the conference is going to be a tune-up, but I've thought more about the region," Capital Coach Jared Smith said. "The regionals has been our ultimate goal all season."

On the girls side, Capital figures to be the favorite for the Region 3 crown behind sophomore Peyton Panger. Currently, Panger ranks 10th statewide in Class AAA, according to www.runwv.com

"Peyton is on top of her game right now," Smith said. "She's peaking at the right time. She ran 19:19 for a 5K a couple weeks ago at (George Washington), and she's looking to have a good showing at conference, but she's really working to win regionals - but she wants to win as a team."

Smith said freshmen Riley Simmerman and Mary Keeton Lane have helped to make Panger's hopes of winning the region a likely scenario, though it won't be easy with competition from GW, Shady Spring and Greenbrier East.

Smith said he figures the Capital boys to be the fourth-best team in the region.

"It's going to be a battle for them to get a spot, but I think we have an outside shot," Smith said.

Junior Marshall Sharp will lead the Cougars in seek of that opportunity.

"He's gained maturity and he's set new (personal records) all season long," Smith said of Marshall, "and I think he's one of the hardest working kids I've ever been around."

Smith said sophomore Michael Ruhnke has cut four minutes from his 5K time to reach the 17-minute range. Joe Schwartz and Ben Bradley will figure prominently into Capital's chances of advancing through regional running, too, Smith added.

Capital won't be the only school using the MSAC meet for larger goals, though.

"This will be the first meet that we've run what we consider our varsity team," Hurricane Girls Coach Bill Posey said.

For much of the year, the Redskins competed without two of their top runners in Baylee Summers and Joie Johnston, who suffered injuries.

The pair will rejoin the other Hurricane girls who have excelled in their absence. Junior Tori Dent enters the race rated the fifth-best in the state and will look to defend her MSAC title.

In addition to Dent and Capital's Panger, four other girls at the MSAC race rank in the state's top 20: Kaylee Williams (12th, Parkersburg), Emily Schwendiman (15th, Hurricane), Jorden Thornton (16th, Cabell Midland) and Ali Cunningham (20th, Ripley).

The Hurricane girls, ranked second in the state, will battle third-ranked Parkersburg and seventh-rated Midland for the MSAC team title.

On the boys side, No. 1 Midland figures to run away with the championship behind a solid squad led by top boys runner Jacob Burcham.

"Jacob will be attempting to defend the individual MSAC title for the fourth straight year," Knights Coach Chris Parsons said. "Each week, Burcham is getting in better shape aerobically and producing better performances each time he steps on the course."

Burcham's greatest test during the MSAC meet will be from GW's Matthew Brafford, ranked third in the state. In fact, on paper, the boys race appears to be quite competitive with 10 runners ranked within the state's top 20 for Class AAA. In addition to Midland, MSAC teams Parkersburg (T-third), Ripley (fifth), Hurricane (eighth) and Huntington (10th) all rank within the state's top 10.

Parsons said perhaps most importantly, the MSAC race will help him determine who will represent the Knights at region.

"Though one of our goals is for our boys to defend the team title, we are still in search for our top seven boys and also girls for the regional and state meets," he said. "Both our girls and boys are battling among each other to attempt to secure a top seven spot and as of now, there is no clear cut seven on either side of our teams."

The MSAC is certainly important to each of the runners and teams, but more than a title, the race represents an opportunity and stepping stone to further success.

"We want to be MSAC champions," Posey said. "That's always a goal. We have three goals and it's always to win that meet, win regionals and to run as high as we can in the state meet. We're going to go into it with the expectations of doing the best we can."


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