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Cross country: Panger, Snedegar win Geico Classic titles

By Nick Brockman

ONA - Region III runners ruled the individual titles among Class AAA races at the annual Geico Classic Invitational at Cabell Midland Saturday morning. 

Capital junior Peyton Panger and Greenbrier East senior Levi Snedegar, both of Region III, paced the field en route to respective first-place finishes at the much heralded early-season cross country meet.

Panger entered the meet ranked fourth among AAA girls runners, according to www.runwv.com, and finished in 19:15. Winfield sophomore Brittney McMillion crossed in second place with an unofficial time of 20:13. 

"It's only four seconds off my PR on this course, so I feel that I progressed really well," Panger said. "I worked a lot harder this summer. I ran a lot more miles and I'm more determined now than ever."

Capital Coach Jared Smith said he was proud to see Panger's early-season effort. 

"Peyton's in exceptional good shape for the beginning of the season," he said. "She ran 19:15 today and last year at the state meet she was 19:12, so I think we're off to a good season-opener and looks good for the rest of the season.

"She was just dominant today and it was almost like a tempo run for her today. She really looks elegant. I'm really proud of her. She works hard and the rest of the girls are feeding off of it. I was real proud." 

For third-ranked Snedegar, it wasn't the path to victory he planned, but he said he was pleased with the result, nonetheless.

"Usually, it's ease off in the first mile and then kick it in," he said of his typical race strategy. "I went a little too hard the first mile and backed off the second mile, then kicked it in in the third." 

"It's a nice benchmark," Snedegar said of his 16:33 finishing time. "I would have liked to have it a little closer to 16:20, 16:15, but high mileage, a humid day, me running stupid that first mile, I got to be happy with it."

Along the way, Snedegar said he fed off fellow runner Jonathan Kissel, a junior from Thomas Worthington (Ohio), who finished second, 12 seconds behind Snedegar. 

"The kid from Thomas Worthington was such a great runner," Snedegar said. "It was great to have him with me, pushing me the whole way. We definitely made each other better today."

Thomas Worthington claimed the team title in the AAA boys race, while host Midland finished second. 

Knights senior Eric Wooten led Midland with his 10th-place finish in 17:23. 

"I feel really good about my race," Wooten said "A lot of people kind of went out a little fast, I thought. I was really trying to run my own race and not get pulled out. Through the race I tried to work my way up and tried to pick a person off at a time."

Midland Coach Chris Parsons said it was pleasing to see his boys run together, with the team's top seven runners finishing in the top 31. 

"Our boys ran as a pack," he said. "On any given day it's like flipping a coin who's going to be number one, and we ran tough."

Winfield ran strong as well behind the solid performances of Generals sophomore R.J. Weiford (fourth, 17:04) and freshman Braxton McMillion (11th, 17:24). 

Capital senior Marshall Sharp also placed among the top 10 individuals in ninth place, with a personal record of 17:20. Fellow Cougars runner Michael Ruhnke placed 33rd in 18:20.

While the AAA boys completed the race with threatening weather conditions, the AAA girls did not finish before a thunderstorm dumped rain upon the course. The girls completed their race, but by the end, heavy rain and lightning forced runners and spectators alike to find cover. 

Despite the tough conditions, the Winfield girls finished second, behind only Thomas Worthington, led by McMillion. It was a balanced effort, though, as five different Generals placed in the top 16 runners. Beyond McMillion, Rachael Englund (sixth, 20:39) and Barkley Castro (seventh, 20:52) also placed in the top 10, with Alyssa Rittinger (12th, 21:07) and Darian Wikel (16th, 21:35) also contributing solid performances.

Zoey Chapman paced host Midland in 26th place. 

In the afternoon A-AA girls race, Mary Richardson, of Newark Catholic (Ohio), won in 19:49. Ravenswood junior Hailey Miller placed fifth in 21:02. Philip Barbour edged Newark Catholic for the team title.

Bridgeport's Abe Merinar turned in the fastest time of the day in the A-AA boys race with a first-place finish of 16:24. Merinar's run paced Bridgeport to a first-place finish ahead of Fairmont Senior. 

Buffalo sophomore Hayden Harrison claimed seventh place with a time of 17:06. Charleston Catholic senior Caden McClanahan finished 16th in 17:55, while Jon Sandy, of Teays Valley Christian placed 19th in 18:11.


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