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Prep cross country: Redskins, Cougars' Panger continue to impress

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Hurricane cross country program hit its stride Saturday as the Redskins boys and girls teams ran away from the competition at the annual Forest Festival Invitational in Elkins.

Hurricane's top five runners, for both the boys and girls teams, placed in the top 15 to win team titles in dominating fashion against a talented field at Davis and Elkins College. While Hurricane dominated the team standings, Capital junior Peyton Panger won the individual girls title, with a time of 20:50.

"I had kind of set the expectations for the boys and girls side, when we met on Friday before the meet, that the girls could put five in the top 10 and the guys could put five in the top 15," Hurricane Coach Jason Henley said, "and they met those expectations really well."

The Redskins girls entered the race ranked second in the state in Class AAA, according to www.runwv.com, while the boys listed sixth.

Junior Joie Johnston finished second overall to pace the Redskins girls team, with freshman Anna Gordon in fourth. Senior Krissy Rich (sixth), sophomore Abbie Short (eighth) and senior Ally Lawhon (10th) also provided solid efforts in victory.

Hurricane's girls claimed the win without two of its top contributors in Tori Dent and Taylor Walroth. Dent missed the race due to illness, a week after sitting out with an Achilles issue. Meanwhile, Walroth did not participate, because of her activities with the soccer team.

"For us to be able to go up there and put five of our girls in the top 10 with two of our top seven out, we were very, very pleased," Henley said.

On the boys side, junior Jacob Harmon and Sam Hughes finished fourth and fifth to lead Hurricane.

"Jacob Harmon has kind of come into his own in the first couple weeks of the season this year," Henley said. "He's cracked 17 minutes for the first time, which is a big barrier for him. He's led us through our first three meets, so he's kind of become that go-to No. 1 guy."

While Harmon and Hughes paced the Redskins, the next five runners (Andrew O'Dell, eighth; Alex Hughes, 13th; David Westfall, 15; Cole Frye, 17th; and Luke Miller, 19th) crossed within 35 seconds of each other.

"Our strength has always been where our No. 3 through 7 guys are, and this was the first week where I felt like they packed it up and raced it really close together," Henley said.

"If you look at that three through seven, I think we were all within 30 or 45 seconds of each other. That's starting to come down.

"It hasn't been like that for the first few weeks of the season. That's where we have to be. We have to have those give guys, three through seven, firing together."

*  *  *

AS THE HURRICANE squads raced to excellence, so too did the Charleston Catholic girls team. The Irish, ranked No. 4 in A-AA, finished second overall, ahead of several AAA programs, including fourth-ranked Hampshire and Capital.

"They measured pretty well," Catholic Coach Scott Welch said. "I still think they're capable of running better. I think we have very strong potential with our girls team and I'm looking forward to see us run at Ripley (Saturday), the regional course. I'm real curious to see how they do there."

Sophomore Payton Mullen paced Catholic at Elkins with a ninth-place finish. Freshman Hannah Gacek (14th), sophomore Peyton Keener (15th), freshman Lia Preston (20th) and senior Annie Crockett (22nd) also performed well in an impressive showing for the Irish.

The meet marked just the second time this season Welch had his full team at disposal as several top runners also play with the Irish soccer team. With just one senior in the top seven and many runners new to distance running, Welch said some of the team's success is lost on its youngest members.

"They don't know what they're doing well enough to fully understand the significance of beating a AAA team that's good," he said. "The freshmen are learning how to run a 3.1-mile course, the soccer players are rookies too. They're learning on the fly and so far, they're doing pretty well."

*  *  *

AWAY FROM WEST VIRGINIA, George Washington senior Matthew Brafford won the Knights Crossing Invitational in 15:21, beating his closest competitor by 18 seconds. The meet was hosted by Cave Spring (Va.) at Green Hill Park near Roanoke, Va.

Brafford began the season as AAA's No. 1 runner and continues to hold that position.

Fellow senior Rowen Maher led the Patriots girls with a time of 21:30.


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