CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- George Washington senior Matthew Brafford blazed a path to victory, earning a win under hot conditions in his final race at the Patriots' home course at Meadowood Park in Tornado Thursday evening.
Brafford entered the George Washington Invitational as the state's No. 1 AAA boys runner and though he missed his goal to set a course record, the heralded harrier blew away the field en route to victory. On the girls side, Capital junior Peyton Panger, ranked second in AAA, ran an equally impressive race to claim individual title honors and lead the Cougars to the team championship.
"It feels really good, especially my senior year, to go out there and win it," Brafford said of his pace-setting 15:30 finish. "It's a real honor to come out here and win your own invitational. It means a lot, especially since it's my last year and GW hasn't had a whole lot of successful runners in a long time. It feels good to come out here and win it for your high school."
Brafford finished 1 minute, 27 seconds faster than his closest competitor, Cody Gillespie, of Oak Hill.
"He just dominated the field," GW Coach Nick Bias said. "It's pretty nice to see a kid you coach go out there and pretty much take control from the start, lead the whole way and never look back. I think that's pretty awesome, to see the confidence he has.
"All the hard work's paying off. I tell him all the time, 'Fall champions are made in the summer,' and he takes that to heart."
While GW's regional foe Ripley won the boys team championship by three points Thursday, Brafford said he was impressed by the Patriots' second-place effort.
"I felt that the team did really well," he said. "Our team's been training very hard this season. Nick Bias, our coach, he's been pushing everybody as hard as they can take it, because he wants everybody to do their best, and I think this year we have a really good shot at regional."
The Capital boys finished third behind strong performances from senior Marshall Sharp (fourth, 17:14) and junior Michael Ruhnke (seventh, 17:27).
"The heat and the speed of the race really wore people out," Sharp said of the conditions. "I think we did really well, but I think there's also always room to improve. I'm happy with what I did, but I think we can do better."
For Ruhnke, his time marked a personal record as he overcomes plantar fasciitis.