Prep cross country: Familiar names look to dominate regionals
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Runners have reached the mountain, and now it's time to head for its summit.
After months of grueling workouts and training, runners from across the area will compete at regionals today for the chance to race at the state championships. Local runners will compete in the Class AAA Region 3 and 4 Championships at Meadowood Park in Tornado, while the Class AA/A Region 4 meet will be held at Battle Run Campground in Summersville.
Look for familiar names atop each race's standings.
The most recognized in running, certainly, is Class AAA No. 1 Cabell Midland and overall top runner Jacob Burcham.
"Our first priority is to qualify for the state meet as a team in a healthy fashion," Knights Coach Chris Parsons said.
"Burcham will be attempting to make it four in a row as Region 4 individual champion, and the team will attempt to defend its regional title. We are also going to see how many of our top seven can make the top 10 and be on the All-Region team."
Entering the meet, nine Midland runners rank among Class AAA's top 45, according to runwv.com. Of those nine, seniors Burcham, Avery Campbell, Brian Lawhon, Jeremy Waugh, Mason Dino and freshmen Andrew Short and Nick Salmons will represent the Knights, Parsons said.
After Midland, Hurricane and Huntington should follow, though Winfield could advance, too, with a strong showing. Generals senior Stone Bellamy could advance individually if Winfield doesn't claim a team spot.
Also in Region 4, the Hurricane girls, ranked second in the state, appear to be the clear favorite.
The Redskins raced most of the season below full strength, but won the Mountain State Athletic Conference Championships Oct. 10 and will look to race at their strongest level at the most important time of the season.
"I feel we were able to train through the MSAC meet and still accomplish our team goal," Coach Bill Posey said. "Hopefully, the girls will respond to the workouts and rest, then race the regional with more intensity."
Tori Dent, ranked sixth in the state, will lead Hurricane, along with senior Emily Schwendiman and freshman Abby Short, among others.
"Having Joie Johnston and Baylee Summers running again give the team much more depth," Posey said. "The experience Ally Lawhon and Natalie Schwendiman give us at the six and seven positions puts us in a good place going into the final 12 days."
Behind Hurricane, No. 7 Midland and eighth-ranked Winfield will battle for second.
Jorden Thornton, Kelsey Dillion and Hannah Morgan lead Midland, while Winfield boasts a well-rounded corps too in Brittney McMillion, Rachael Englund and Barkley Castro.
Class AAA Region 3
George Washington and Capital will battle for the girls team championship, with No. 5 Ripley expected to win the boys team title.
Behind the Ripley boys, No. 7 Oak Hill, GW and Greenbrier East will compete for two spots to advance.
Capital Coach Jared Smith said don't discount the Cougars, though.
"I think that my boys are peaking at the right time," he said. "They're going to give every thing that they have to go for that final spot."
For the Patriots, junior Matthew Brafford will lead the way. Brafford looks to be the favorite for the individual regional championship, but will need to contend with Greenbrier East's Levi Snedegar and Wes Stowers, of Oak Hill. Each rank within the state's top eight for Class AAA.
"He fully expects to go out and win," Patriots Coach Nick Bias said of Brafford. "He's never won regionals before, he's never been a regional champ before, but he wants to go out and win, make a statement."
In the girls race, Capital sophomore Peyton Panger, rated seventh-best in Class AAA, will be the favorite for the individual title. Other individuals expected to contend near the top include Ripley's Ali Cunningham, Emily Fedders, of Beckley, Shady Spring's Taylor Jackson and Adrienne Arnold, of GW.
No girls team within Region 3 is ranked, but competition will be thick between evenly matched GW and Capital. Ripley, Shady Spring and Greenbrier East will contend for the final spot.
"We have to be on our toes and ready," Smith said. "Hopefully, we'll come out with a good performance. I want the kids to go to the state meet and have fun, but I would be lying to you if I told you I didn't want that regional championship."
Class AA/A Region 4
Buffalo appears poised to take the boys team title as the Bison enter ranked fifth statewide, though ninth-ranked Charleston Catholic will look to contend, too, with Ravenswood and Roane County following.
Senior Dylan Rich will lead Buffalo and also threaten for the individual championship, though Scott's Will Shaffer is the favorite to claim the title.
Charleston Catholic boasts a solid one-two punch in senior Marcus Black and junior Caden McClanahan. Black is ranked sixth in the state and eager to return to state after an 11th place showing last year.
On the girls side, No. 2 Scott factors to be the favorite behind senior Brittany Green, who will contend for the individual title with Ravenswood's Hailey Miller.
Behind Scott and Ravenswood, Charleston Catholic and Nicholas County will battle for the final spot.
Should the Irish not advance as a team, Catholic's Sami Harris and Annie Crockett will be contenders as individuals.