Prep track: Gazette Relays give teams chance to adjust
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Many of the Mountain State's top high school track and field teams will descend upon Charleston today in what many athletes and coaches bill as a state meet preview in the Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays.
The meet, to be held today and Saturday, features five of the state's six reigning track team champions, along with many individual state title holders and other traditional powers all competing at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field.
For athletes, the meet represents a chance to gauge their opposition in one of the regular season's final tune-ups.
"Gazettes gives us that last opportunity to see where we are, see what modifications we have to make, if we have any we need to make, before heading into championship time," Hurricane distance Coach Jason Henley said.
The Redskins will be led by the squad's girls distance runners, including senior Emily Schwendiman, a favorite to win the Class AAA 3200-meter run, as well as contend in the 800 and 1600.
Schwendiman will battle with her many talented teammates along with Capital's Peyton Panger and a slew of Winfield distance runners. Panger enters as the favorite in the mile, while the Generals boast as many as four runners who will threaten for top spots in distance events.
The Generals girls squad, ranked third in AAA, according to www.runwv.com, feature balance across the board with solid performers in sprints, distance and field events.
"They're coming along, you just have to stay after it," Winfield Coach David Bailey said. "My kids, so far, I can't complain. Under the circumstances, they're doing a great job. It seems like they're starting to step up and doing what they have to do, and that's real important."
Emily Cole, Anika Shah, Haeley Moore and Mary Zulauf lead the Winfield sprinters as each are projected for top-10 finishes in their respective sprint events.
On the AAA level, Winfield and Hurricane will contend with top-ranked Buckhannon-Upshur and defending champ Morgantown, as well as sixth-ranked University, among other teams.
In boys AAA action, three-time defending state champ Jefferson enters as the team to beat. Cabell Midland, currently rated No. 2, poses a threat at the state meet, but will divide its team this weekend, with many of its top athletes racing in the Eastern Relays at the University of Louisville.
"My team at Gazettes will definitely not be at full strength," Knights Coach Chris Parsons said. "However, we still wouldn't miss the Gazettes, because it's one of the best meets in West Virginia besides regionals and states."
That means fans will have to wait for another opportunity to watch one of the state's most-heralded runners in Midland senior Jacob Burcham.
Beyond Midland and Jefferson, No. 6 Huntington and seventh-ranked Point Pleasant expect to contend in boys AAA.
Both Class AA defending team champions, Ritchie County (boys) and Berkeley Springs (girls) will also compete in the two-day meet.
In Class AA and Class A, six of the state's top 10 girls teams and eight of the top 10 boys squads are expected to attend the Relays.
The seventh-ranked Poca boys will be among those top competitors.
"We can score some points," Dots Coach John Bonecutter said. "Our goal would be to go top five. We'll see if it happens."
Poca sophomore Christian Buckley enters as Class AA's top athlete in both the shot put and discus, while Josh Crites (hurdles) and A.J. Keys (long jump) figure to factor in top results. On the girls side, Dots Marissa Perkins, Paula Ord and Kristen Broughman should be among top contenders.
The local Class A effort will be led by Buffalo and Charleston Catholic. The Bison boys rank fifth, while the Irish boys list sixth and the girls 10th. Both teams' boys squads will battle two-time defending champ Doddridge County, while the Williamstown girls represents the lone reigning team title holder not attending the meet.
For Buffalo and Catholic, each team boasts many athletes expected to record top performances, including Bison distance runner Dylan Rich and Irish thrower Gina Marks.
In total, approximately 70 West Virginia schools are expected to attend the two-day meet, in addition to several schools from Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia.