MORGANTOWN — After months of preparation, the build-up to the WVSSAC state cross-country meet is almost over. Runners from Morgantown, University and Preston high schools will make their way to Cabell Midland High School today ahead of the final meet, Oct. 28, in Ona.
For one UHS runner in particular, Saturday is a chance at redemption.
Senior TaShala Turner, who has dominated her competition the last two years, was unable to finish the state meet last season. An illness forced her to drop out around the 1.5-mile mark.
“It was a little disappointing, putting in all that hard work and having that happen to me,” Turner said. “I’m not going to concentrate on what happened. I just want to prove to everyone and to myself that one race doesn’t define you.”
Turner, last year’s Gatorade girls’ cross-country runner of the year in West Virginia, cranked it up a few notches this season. She has won every race but one — a fourth-place finish at the Carlisle (Pa.) Invitational.
Her times are vastly improved, best illustrated by a 20-second drop from last year to this year at the Ohio Valley Athletic Conference meet in Byesville, Ohio.
“She just went after this season with a vengeance,” UHS coach Ed Frohnapfel said. “It would be awesome to see her win. She deserves it. I can’t imagine what else TaShala could have done to set herself up for a title.”
Turner will go head-to-head with Ripley sophomore Victoria Starcher in a highly anticipated battle. Starcher edged out Turner at last year’s state track meet in the 1600- and 3200-meter runs, winning the latter by 1.6 seconds.
UHS won the last three state titles and is the favorite in the girls’ team competition, but MHS isn’t far behind, a year after finishing a mere 14 points in back of the Hawks. That being said, the Mohigans’ best shot at a team title will be on the boys’ side, where they are the heavy favorite.
A year ago, MHS annihilated the competition, winning by a margin of 55 points, and is on pace for a similar result thanks to its “pack mentality.”
“We run better as a pack. We really push each other,” senior Andrew Jones said.
“It’s our bread and butter,” MHS coach Mike Ryan said. “We have to have all five guys up there. I think we can get a couple to finish top 10, for sure. We have guys that are definitely capable of that, but we have to have them all together.”
That strategy has been key to the Morgantown boys’ resurgence. Prior to last season, while MHS perennially qualified for state, the Mohigans were rarely in a position to compete for the top spot.
Morgantown will hope to continue its strong run of late with a second straight boys’ title, something the program has accomplished only once, in 1959 and 1960.
Resurgence has been the main focus for the Preston boys’ team. Behind Ward Ries, an individual qualifier to last year’s state meet, the Knights are back at state for the first time since 2011.
“Personally, I feel like it’s going to be a lot more fun,” said Ries, a senior. “It’s going to be a lot better running while we’re there. We’re going to run for each other.”
“This is a sport of what you do in the offseason, and he is so dedicated there,” Preston head coach Paul Martin said. “We feel like we have two guys that can finish in the top 10. Then, it really comes down to the next three.”
Ries and Cole Friend finished second and third, respectively, at regionals and both will vie for all-state honors. Preston’s team goal is a top-five finish, but, even if they fall short of that mark, the Knights will still take a tremendous amount away from Saturday’s race.
“Most of the team is younger, and they’re really going to learn a lot from it,” Ries said. “It’s going to help them out later in their high school careers.”
State meet qualifiers from area schools:
CLASS AAA BOYS
Morgantown: Xavier Adams, Andrew Christy, Kevin Donnelly, Michael Hoefler, Quinn Jacquez, Andrew Jones, Benjamin Peters, Tyrique Stone, Gideon Temple, Mikael Virji.
Preston: Daniel Barker, Cole Friend, Ward Ries, Trey Smith-Tatham, Evan Thomas, Hayden Thomas, Wyatt Wolfe.
University: Ryan Coen, Alex Dean, Nathaniel Edwards, Samuel Frasch, Michael Gharib, Aidan Palmer, Nicholas Summerlin, Jordan Thomas, Philip White.
CLASS AAA GIRLS
Morgantown: Amber Dombrowski, Amelia Haddox, Lauren Hancox, Samantha Hatcher, Myah McAlister, Avigail Radabaugh, Elise Sizick, Kristine Stapleton, Megan Weaver, Athena Young.
University: Isabella Balko, Caroline Kirby, Peyton Kukura, Abigail Murray, Zoe Shetty, Emma Troischt, TaShala Turner, Hermione Vos, Emma Williams, Madeline Wright.