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Prep track: Regionals take priority over MSAC meet

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A final tune-up presents today at the Mountain State Athletic Conference Track Championships as coaches and athletes refine rosters and skills heading toward next week's regionals.

With Class AAA region championships set for Wednesday, the MSAC Championships, held at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field, could potentially feature athletes running fewer events with less-demanding schedules as all enter the final weeks of the season.

"That's not a whole lot of time between the conference and the regionals," Cabell Midland Coach Chris Parsons said. "Then, you have to be careful of not putting your athletes, especially your distance athletes, in too many events and trying to waste them."

Midland enters as the favorite for the boys team title, as the Knights rank second in the state behind only three-time defending champion Jefferson.

Many athletes established their top events and teams with their relays, though some spots remain open for competition at the championships, Parsons said.

"We're trying to hit all cylinders with really less than three weeks until the state meet," he said. "There's some decisions that have to be made, exactly what you're going to do, especially with your elite athletes.

"We use the conference to really make those decisions, those final decisions. We know what we're going to do with most of the athletes, but there are still uncertainties. We like to use the conference to stick some people in some events and give them the opportunity to make some relay teams, make sure we put together our best combination leading into regionals."

The Knights' strength lies in distance events, led by senior Jacob Burcham. For Burcham, he'll be among athletes who won't run a rigorous schedule of events at conference championships in order to better rest and prepare for regionals and beyond.

"He won't even run the mile or two-mile at the conference," Parsons said of Burcham's participation in his standard events. "I'll stick him, like I did last year, he'll run the open 400, the open 800 and the 4x400. He'll run just three events and get ready for the regional meet. Basically, what we'll do for that is sharpen up for regionals and leading into the state meet."

With Burcham not in his premier events, the door will be open for other top distance runners, including George Washington's Matthew Brafford and Capital's Marshall Sharp and Michael Ruhnke, should they choose to run their normal distance events.

Brafford ranks among the state's top four in both the mile and two-mile, while Sharp and Ruhnke each set school history with their most recent performances. Sharp and Ruhnke finished the mile in less than 4:40 at the Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays, the first time in school history any two runners finished at that time together, cross country Coach Jared Smith said.

"That's pretty amazing," Smith said. "The sky's the limit. They have loftier goals now. Their ultimate goal is to make it to states now."

In addition to Midland, Parkersburg and Huntington represent top boys squads battling for the team title.

On the girls side, competition will be thick with Winfield, Parkersburg, St. Albans and Hurricane all ranking among Class AAA's top 10 teams, according to www.runwv.com.

"Hurricane's got a good team," Winfield Coach David Bailey said of his competition. "There are several good kids - Parkersburg, too. We hope we can compete well there."

In sprints, Red Dragons sophomore Anacia Hines is expected to battle Emily Cole and Anika Shah, both of Winfield. Barkley Castro, of Winfield, ranks among top middledistance runners.

For long-distance events, Capital sophomore Peyton Panger will contend with Hurricane's Emily Schwendiman and Joie Johnston.

Like Parsons, Bailey said he'll approach the meet differently than normal given regionals falls five days later.

"I'm probably like everyone else, I probably won't be running a lot of the same kids the way I did in the Gazette Relays," he said, "because for the fact I'm not in favor of running this meet on Friday before we have to run our regional meet on Wednesday."


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