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Prep cross country: GW's Brafford wins state title

By Nick Brockman

ONA, W.Va. -- The high school cross country season culminated at the state championship with some runners realizing dreams and others falling short though not without intense efforts and great finishes at Cabell Midland Saturday.

George Washington senior Matt Brafford executed his goal to win the AAA boys state title, by finishing in 15:39 after running several years in the shadow of three-time champion Jacob Burcham.

Brafford ranked No. 1 throughout the season by www.runwv.com, led the race start to finish.

"Once we got through that first mile, I kind of put a surge on it, just to get that lead and once I got that lead I just really felt confident about it and ready to take it," he said.

Patriots Coach Nick Bias said Brafford implemented the right strategy and effort en route to victory.

"He went out the first mile there and really surged the second mile, which was kind of the plan going in and dropped the rest of the field and pretty much ran away from it there on out," Bias said.

As Brafford won the individual title, University claimed the AAA boys team crown, with Midland 13 points behind in second and Morgantown third.

Knights sophomore Nick Salmons earned All-State honors placing eighth. Other local All-State runners included Hurricane's Jake Henley (fifth) and Winfield's R.J. Weiford (ninth).

Henley's run proved to be one of the most impressive performances of the day as he out-ran his No. 20 ranking. Henley's coach Jason Henley said it was a crowning achievement.

"I love him and I'm proud of him, and he's a phenomenal kid," Jason Henley said. "The ferocity and the courage with which he raced, it's not something you can coach. It's just something that's born in a kid. He's just unafraid. He's not afraid to go out there and mix it up with the best."

Hurricane's girls also ran strong competing without the team's No. 2 runner in Joie Johnston who was recently diagnosed with stress fractures in each of her femurs. The second-ranked Redskins overcame the obstacle to finish second behind team champion Morgantown.

 "The girls just stepped up big," Jason Henley said. "It was a challenge there the last three weeks losing Joie.

"It was predicted this week that if we were without Joie, there was no way we could be a top two team and I think there was probably some extra motivation for the girls."

Freshman Anna Gordon paced Hurricane with her seventh-place finish, while senior Tori Dent finished 14th.

University senior Amelia Paladino won the individual championship in 17:55 to defend her title.

"I obviously wanted to win again and I've put a lot of pressure on myself to do that, and so it's a blessing for sure," Paladino said.

Paladino paced University to a third-place finish, with Winfield taking fourth behind Rachel Englund (12th).

Capital junior Peyton Panger finished third overall, improving 15 seconds upon her state meet time last season when she finished eighth.

"It's a marked improvement since last year, which is what you focus on and I'm happy with that," she said.

In the girls AA/A race, Charleston Catholic tied Philip Barbour with 91 points for first place, but fell to second on the tiebreaker. As rules dictate, officials used each team's sixth finisher as the tiebreaker. Philip Barbour claimed its fourth consecutive title as its sixth runner finished ahead of Charleston Catholic's sixth runner.

Despite the tough result, Irish Coach Scott Welch said he's pleased with how the second-ranked Catholic girls performed.

"We were hoping to get second and if we got first, that would have been even better, but we're very pleased, very happy," he said.

"If you start thinking, 'We could have gotten this girl, we could have gotten that girl' - but it's better than being third. It's better than being fourth, and we'll take it. We're young and we've got our top four returners back next year and our sixth runner's back, so if we can find a couple more girls in the school that are willing to run, we should be back there."

Freshman Hannah Gacek led Catholic in 13th place.

Grafton freshman Alicia Parsons won the individual championship in 19:03, with freshman teammate Montanna Garrett claiming fourth place. Grafton ran strong behind the pair, though did not qualify to enter a team.

For the boys A/AA race, Bridgeport senior Abe Merinar won in 16:20 leading Bridgeport to victory past Philip Barbour and Fairmont Senior.

Merinar said he felt great to share the top of the podium with his teammates.

"We've been ranked No. 1 for a long time, but to actually do it and to be No. 1 today was incredible," he said.

Buffalo sophomore Hayden Harrison earned All-State accolades by finishing in third place in 16:28.

Herbert Hoover's Josh McClung ran strong to finish 11th overall.

Senior Caden McClanahan finished 21st overall to lead ninth-place Catholic, while Buffalo finished 10th in the standings of 15 teams.


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