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Prep cross country: Henley out-runs expectations at states

By Nick Brockman

ONA, W.Va. -- A runner without rank or even a team at midseason, Hurricane's Jake Henley excelled at Saturday's West Virginia high school cross country state championship taking many by surprise.

He didn't shock himself or his coach one bit, however.

Henley, a junior transfer from St. Albans, entered the race ranked No. 20 among Class AAA boys, according to www.runwv.com. He finished fifth overall in 16:13 to earn All-State honors at the Cabell Midland championship course.

"I went into the race knowing I wasn't ranked too, too high," Henley said. "I just knew that I had the ability in me and I had all the strength and the training that I needed to get it done. I never dreamed that it would put me that far, but I knew that I could try to make a bang and that's what I wanted to do."

Henley joined Hurricane midseason after he was finally granted eligibility following his transfer. At approximately the same time, the Redskins started their push toward reaching the state meet for the second consecutive year.

"We had this theme this year and it was 'We run as one,'" Henley said. "We kind of modeled it after the Boston theme, but that became our theme this year and the whole idea was to pack attack: the whole pack just push as one.

After some early-season struggles, the squad put the theme into action beginning at the Great American Cross Country Festival in Cary, N.C. Oct. 5, Henley said.

For Henley, the ability to compete with the team held great significance, he said.

"It was so cool," Henley said. "I've been hanging out with the guys the past couple years just running with them in the offseason, hanging out with them. It's just been a really cool time to get to grow and develop and then finally be able to run with them. It's been very cool."

In joining the team, Henley accepted his father Jason Henley as his coach, too.

"It's been a really unique experience," Jake Henley said of the father-son, coach-runner relationship. "It's been very cool because we went into it with a little bit of apprehension if we were going to be able to separate running from home and we were able to do that. It just became a very cool bond that's brought us closer together."

Jason Henley beamed with pride following his son's accomplishment Saturday.

"He just showed everybody in the state that he's going to be a force to be reckoned with," he said. "Even the very best prediction he had coming into the race was 15th or 16th, and he out-kicked the group to finish fifth. His speed was absolutely, absolutely phenomenal."

As a team, Hurricane placed sixth of 13 squads.

*  *  *

LIKE HENLEY, George Washington senior Matthew Brafford made a statement with his race. Brafford, a four-time AAA Region 3 champion, won the AAA boys title in 15:39 after finishing runner-up last season behind Cabell Midland's Jacob Burcham, a three-time state champion.

Brafford ranked throughout the season as the state's top runner and he said the reality of his final high school cross country race began to sink in Saturday.

"It kind of started hitting me about a half-mile from the finish and just realizing this is my last high school cross country race running as a Patriot," he said. "It's emotional, but it's also a great feeling just to know all the hard work has paid off and that I'm where I wanted to be from the very beginning."

Brafford won the race by a 26-second margin. Morgantown's Connor Riley finished second after entering the race ranked 12th to lead the Mohigans to a third-place finish.

Midland sophomore Nick Salmons finished eighth overall to lead the second-ranked Knights, finishing 13 points behind team champion University.

"We had a great effort," Midland Coach Chris Parsons said. "I was pleased, super pleased with them and especially knowing we only lose two and we got five of them coming back for next year."

Winfield's R.J. Weiford finished ninth, leading the Generals to a seventh-place showing.

*  *  *

IN CLASS AAA GIRLS, Hurricane ran strong to finish second behind favorite Morgantown.

Freshman Anna Gordon claimed seventh place in 19:15 and senior Tori Dent finished 14th as the Redskins ran well without one of their top runners in the injured Joie Johnston, who was recently diagnosed with stress fractures in both femurs.

"I knew I had to step it up a little bit if we wanted to get second," Gordon said.

University senior Amelia Paladino defended her individual title by winning in 17:55, beating Abby Colbert (18:22), of Jefferson, and Capital's Peyton Panger (18:57).

"Peyton ran a great race," Cougars Coach Jared Smith said. "Obviously, she wanted the whole thing, but she ran a great race, a very strategic race. Paladino is just so strong."

Winfield placed three runners in the top 25, led by Rachel Englund (12th) as the Generals finished fourth.

*  *  *

THE TIGHTEST contest of the day resulted in heartbreak for the Charleston Catholic girls in the Class A/AA. The Irish tied Philip Barbour with 91 team points, but the Colts won the tiebreaker to take their fourth consecutive title. After scoring each team's top five runners, officials used the sixth runner to determine the winner and Philip Barbour claimed the championship with a better finishing sixth runner.

Catholic Coach Scott Welch said the outcome speaks to the nature of the sport.

"It just shows you how team-oriented this sport is," he said. "It's difficult, it's hard work and some people think it's just one or two runners, but this shows you exactly how deep a team can go to win."

Freshman Hannah Gacek paced the Irish with her 13th-place finish. Ravenswood's Hailey Miller finished fifth and Sheena Chambers, of Scott, took 10th to earn All-State status.

Grafton freshman Alicia Parsons won in 19:03, to edge Oak Glen senior Kelsey Chambers by less than 10 seconds.

Bridgeport senior Abe Merinar won the A/AA boys race in 16:20 to lead the Indians to a 59-point margin of victory past Philip Barbour and third-place Fairmont Senior.

Buffalo sophomore Hayden Harrison followed closely behind in 16:28 to claim third place and earn All-State honors.

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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