MORGANTOWN — Coming into the season, the Morgantown High swim team faced a tough challenge, replacing one of the state’s best — now a swimmer at Fairmont State — in Courtney Deem.
As MHS heads into the holiday break, a solution to that problem seems to have finally emerged.
Senior Abigail Riggs, who will swim in the college ranks next year at WVU, has helped pick up the slack, putting Morgantown in good position for the final push to the state meet.
“She has stepped up for us,” MHS head coach Matt Jernigan said. “Last year, as a junior, she knew Courtney was leaving. She knew this was where she had to be to help the team.”
Riggs has not just helped, she has led the way for a talented MHS girls’ team eager to reclaim the state championship, which it last won in 2012.
The senior has followed up a solid junior campaign with some of the top performances in the state this year. Riggs has the best time in the 200-yard freestyle (2:01.42), 500-yard freestyle (5:23.55) and the 200-yard individual medley (2:17.45), according to a list compiled by swimwv.com. That list shows a six-second edge on her nearest competitor in the 500 free.
“I love that race,” Riggs said. “There’s so much strategy to the 500. It is a painful event, for sure. You have to be able to churn those 50s out at the same split every single time, but I love that. I love getting in that pace. Even though it hurts, it’s definitely worth it.”
Riggs’ love for swimming, as a whole, comes from her parents, Vic and Renee. Both college swimmers, they have served as Abigail’s coach at one point or another. Vic, now in his 11th year as WVU head coach, will get the opportunity to do so again next fall.
“They love swimming so much that they dedicated their whole lives to it,” Abigail said. “They never pressured me to swim. I just loved it.
“My mom has been my coach my whole life at the club level, and she’s a pretty tough coach. … I’m very excited to swim for my dad. I’ve seen what some of his swimmers have been able to do, and I’m looking forward to the chance to swim for him at WVU.”
While the prospect of representing the Mountaineers next year certainly has Riggs excited, her primary focus is on a strong finish to her career at MHS.
“We’re going to get a week-and-a-half of really hard training over break, and then it will be championship season,” Riggs said. “While I’m nervous for it, I’m also excited. I’m excited to see what I can do. It’s going to be fun.”
Even with Riggs’ strong start to her senior season, it will take a total team effort for the MHS program to accomplish its goals. Rules limit how many races she can compete in once the postseason arrives, meaning others will have to step up for the Mohigans.
“If she’s seeded number one in three events, you can only put her in two of those and some relays. So, we have to sacrifice one event,” Jernigan said. “A lot of our approach will come back on her. I know what she’s capable of doing, but I’ll ask her where she wants to be. That’s what we’ll go with.
“As a coach, I look at who our second best is. If Abigail steps out of an event, we’ll go to that person. They may not be seeded number one, but they can still get points.”
Winners from the Dec. 18 triangular meet with MHS, University and Weir:
200 medley relay: MHS (Abigail Riggs, Riley Pierce, McKenna Moore, Abby Voorhees), 2:07.49.
200 freestyle: Abigail Riggs (MHS), 2:02.99.
200 IM: Riley Pierce (MHS), 2:26.20.
50 freestyle: Jacqueline McCutchan (UHS), 25.54.
100 butterfly: McKenna Moore (MHS), 1:04.34.
100 freestyle: Claire Stewart (Weir), 1:08.25.
500 freestyle: Abigail Riggs (MHS), 5:29.67.
200 freestyle relay: MHS (McKenna Moore, Nicole Hatton, Abby Voorhees, Riley Pierce), 1:53.83.
100 backstroke: Jacqueline McCutchan (UHS), 1:04.60.
100 breaststroke: Mia Rice (UHS), 1:18.11.
400 freestyle relay: MHS (McKenna Moore, Abby Voorhees, Riley Pierce, Abigail Riggs), 4:06.10.
200 medley relay: MHS (Spencer Redelman, Gavin Fragale, Thomas Carter, Carson Gresak), 2:11.94.
200 freestyle: Wil Visnic (Weir), 1:54.98.
200 IM: Griffin Nordstrom (UHS), 2:33.24.
50 freestyle: Nathan Mizener (UHS), 25.27.
100 butterfly: Michael Miller (Weir), 1:01.95.
100 freestyle: Chris Hoover (Weir), 56.05.
500 freestyle: Wil Visnic (Weir), 5:17.78.
200 freestyle relay: Weir (Michael Miller, Boston Beatty, Chris Hoover, Wil Visnic), 1:44.73.
100 backstroke: Zachary Guiddy (Weir), 1:16.26.
100 breaststroke: Michael Miller (Weir), 1:10.40.
400 freestyle relay: Weir (Wil Visnic, Chris Hoover, Zachary Guiddy, Michael Miller), 3:56.37.