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Prep cross country: GW’s Brafford sets personal record in win

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearing the finish of the cross country season, Kanawha Valley teams know the competition and many raced in a preview of the Class AAA Region 3 championship on Thursday night.

The region's top contenders, as well as squads and individuals from around the area, gathered at the George Washington Invitational held at Meadowood Park in Tornado, with Ripley claiming the boys title and Winfield winning on the girls side.

For the boys, the region's top three squads - all ranked in the state's Class AAA top 10 by RunWV.com - ran. Ripley entered ranked the highest at No. 5, followed by No. 7 Oak Hill and No. 8 GW.

"All in all, a pretty good meet, a pretty good showing," Ripley Coach Jimmy Groves said.

Groves said he gave credit to his team's top competitors in GW and Oak Hill for pushing Ripley.

"They're definitely getting better - both of them," he said. "Both teams are coached well and their runners are picking up their times on us, but we're going to do our best."

Chad Longanacre paced Ripley with a sixth-place finish as teammate Caleb Casto finished ninth overall.

Ripley boasts four seniors within its top six runners, and that played a large factor in the team's success, Longanacre said.

"We've been running with each other for forever, and it's just like we're best friends," he said. "Practice gets more fun than it is tough."

While Ripley took the team title, GW's Matthew Brafford won the individual honor with a personal record of 15:48.

"Our top five guys all ran their personal bests," Patriots Coach Nick Bias said. "I think we're moving along at the right time, and hopefully, with four more weeks in the season left, we'll be peaking at the right time."

GW finished fifth Thursday behind Ripley, Huntington, Oak Hill and Class AA Buffalo, though Bias said he's noticing improvement from the Patriots.

"I feel like we keep closing that gap each week," he said. "Hopefully, in a couple more weeks we'll keep closing that gap and by states, hopefully, we can overcome them."

Bias said he's equally proud of the effort from the girls team. The Patriots finished third behind Region 4 squad Winfield, ranked No. 8 in the state, and Region 3 foe Capital.

"I really think, if we run our best, the girls have an excellent shot at winning regional, if they keep running up to their potential like they have been," Bias said.

Capital's Peyton Panger finished first individually, with Winfield's Brittney McMillion and Ripley's Ali Cunningham second and third.

In addition to Capital, Bias said he expects strong competition for the Region 3 crown from Greenbrier East, which finished fourth.

While the main competition focused upon Region 3 athletes, there were several other strong performances.

Buffalo's Dylan Rich placed fifth individually to lead a strong showing for the seventh-ranked Class AA squad. Also on the boys side, Winfield senior Stone Bellomy finished 12th.

Winfield faces a difficult climb to reach state as a team in a region filled with powers like Cabell Midland, Hurricane and Huntington, but Bellomy figures to factor into the state meet, at least individually.

"I feel pretty confident in myself in the season moving on," Bellomy said. "We have this three-week period coming up, so I'm actually really excited to buckle down and start working a lot harder. I'm at the point where it's either do or die for me to go to states, and I intend to give 110 percent to get there."

With the season winding down, there's not much time for teams and runners to make their moves.

George Washington will host both the Class AAA Region 3 and Region 4 championships on Oct. 18.


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