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Prep cross country: Winfield, Midland place high at GEICO Classic

By Nick Brockman

ONA, W.Va. - Run as a pack, succeed as a pack. Racing well in a tightly packed bunch, the Winfield girls and Cabell Midland cross country teams each placed second at the annual Geico Classic Invitational on Saturday.

The Generals placed five runners in the top 16 finishers of the AAA girls race. Meanwhile, Midland finished with seven boys runners among the top 31. Thomas Worthington (Ohio) edged Winfield and Midland respectively to capture the team titles in both big-school races.

"You want to be able to work together as a team," Winfield coach Kelsey Spang said. "This is probably one of the only individual sports where it's essential to work as a team. I was really impressed and I think that through the example of those experienced runners and how they showed how they could implement that team pack running, I think that it's only going to help the rest of the team whenever we go to practice."

Generals sophomore Brittney McMillion paced the Winfield pack with her second-place finish in 20:13. 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 contributed solid performances.

Spang said she hopes the team's lesser-experienced athletes learn from the success of Saturday's race.

"The new runners, they don't understand how important it is to run as a pack, but with this now, that they understand what it's like to run in a high school meet," she said. "They know how important it is and they can have that real-life example to actually understand what we're talking about in practice."

Knights senior Eric Wooten led Midland with his 10th-place finish in 17:23.  Fellow senior Hunter Adkins finished 13th, followed by a slew of other solid Knight runs from Brandon Atkinson, Nick Salmons, Austin Jarrell, Jeremiah Parlock and Will Sheils.

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

While the Midland boys and Winfield girls concentrated on running as a pack, Capital's Peyton Panger ran away from the field. Panger won the AAA girls race in 19:15, three seconds off her seventh-place finishing time at the 2012 state meet.

Panger said she felt comfortable with the course, but was less familiar with some of the participating runners.

"I felt pretty good about the race," she said. "I was a little apprehensive at first because I knew there were some people here that I hadn't run against before and they were kind of hanging back. I know it's sometimes a strategy to let the frontrunner go out and think they're beating everybody and then they end up going too hard."

Fellow Capital runners Marshall Sharp (ninth, 17:20) and Michael Ruhnke (33rd, 18:20) also ran solidly for the Cougars, with Sharp setting a personal record (PR) and Ruhnke overcoming a cumbersome injury.

"Both of them ran well," Capital coach Jared Smith said. "Michael's got a little bit of a foot issue. It's not extreme plantar fasciitis right not, but it's really bothering him when he climbs the hills and he's stretching. Marshall ran exceptional. He ran his PR today and he's got one of the most lethal kicks in the state of West Virginia."

Sharp said he was pleased to perform so well on the state championship course against many teams Capital will continue to compete against this season.

"I was really happy with it, because this is one of my favorite courses and it's the state meet course," he said, "so it was really fun and I'm glad I got the place that I did. I really stacked up well against the regional teams, so I felt good about that."

Whether it's Sharp or Ruhnke in the lead, Ruhnke said he's happy to see the team succeed and eager to return to full health.

"Most races, it kind of just depends on who's feeling better and right now it's more towards (Sharp) because he's not injured," Ruhnke said, "but today when we were running up the hill I was in front of him the first mile and I felt really good."

In the boys AAA race, Greenbrier East senior Levi Snedegar, ranked third in the state, won the individual title in 16:33. 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).

During the 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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