MORGANTOWN — Junior Zoe Shetty is way too familiar with sixth place.
Shetty made the trip to Cabell Midland for the WVSSAC cross-country championships her freshman and sophomore years, and both times she crossed the finish line in sixth.
This year, things are looking different. Only two runners who topped Shetty at the state meet last fall return — Parkersburg’s Olivia Collett and Ripley’s defending champion, Tori Starcher — and she is fresh off an outdoor track season where she posted top-five finishes in the 1600 and 3200 meter runs.
After a brief rest, she is back to work during the three-week summer practice period.
Shetty will be the top returnee for a Hawks squad that brings back five of its top seven runners from a fourth straight state championship, and she expects teamwork to play a part in pushing UHS back atop the podium — and her past that ever-familiar sixth-place finish.
“We have a lot of really talented girls coming back this season and we are all really close. I’m excited to be able to be on a team with many of them again,” she said. “We all work together and motivate each other so much, and that has been the attitude of our team for a long time. It definitely helps us be successful.”
Shetty also wants to ensure that she and her teammates continue their workouts on their own with consistency heading into the preseason.
“My teammates and I are going to have put in a lot of mileage this summer and stay focused on running,” she said. “It is easy to fall of your running routine during the summer, and we need to keep each other motivated and accountable as a team.”
UHS coach Ed Froh-napfel is excited by the work ethic and talent in the group of runners returning to the squad, and is looking to make his team’s streak five in a row.
“I’m going to shoot to continue the state championship run. We have more than enough talent,” he said. “Three of our returners have been all-state in their careers, and a couple more were knocking on the door. We’re going to work them hard and hope it all comes out in our favor in the end.”
Frohnapfel hopes to use the three-week period to keep the younger girls in-shape and to build mileage for his varsity squad while giving them a much-needed break from competition mind set.
“They raced from cross-country through outdoor track, and now I want them to take a break and just build mileage back up heading into August,” he said. “That’s my main focus with them.”
Shetty calls the summer workouts “relaxing,” and finds that the time off from competition helps her power down and come back as a tougher runner.
“During the season, there is just a lot of stress as a result of having so many races, so I always enjoy taking a step back and then getting back into the swing of things,” she said. “It helps me and my teammates recover and reboot before going into the season.”
The UHS boys’ squad didn’t claim a state championship like their counterparts last fall, but by most accounts, their fifth-place finish at the state meet would be considered a success.
“Last year, I thought we were abysmal at the state meet,” he said. “We got fifth, but of the five guys, seven of them ran their worst times of the year.”
UHS senior Nathaniel Edwards, one of five varsity returnees for UHS, remembers the race well — even when he’d rather not.
“States didn’t go well, really. We just didn’t click or connect as a team, and we didn’t go in and do our jobs. There was a lot before that race where we were just beating ourselves down, and we had a team that should have gone out there and performed strong,” he said.
“The mental part of running is more than anyone realizes. Most of the guys remember that, and it was not a good time. I think it will serve as a reminder not to disappoint ourselves again.”
This year, Frohnapfel expects better results as a team. The Hawks lose 2016 individual state champion and 2017 runner-up Philip White to graduation, but return a solid group of runners that he expects will form a tight-knit pack on the course.
“I’d like to see improvement in this group overall. We won’t replace Philip White at second in the state, but if I can get all of these guys to improve and move up in the team score, we should be more competitive,” he said. “There was a big gap between our number one and our three through five last year. Hopefully this year, we’ll be a closer pack one through six than we were last year.”
Edwards is optimistic about the team approach his squad is taking to the sport, and expects that if the group can push through the challenges its encounters, the season may turn out to be more successful than anyone is imagining.
“It’s all about pushing each other in training. Coach is right: We won’t have just one outstanding runner. We’re going to be a pack running as a team, and that’s going to be interesting,” he said. “We need to stay together, get focused and work hard as a team. Hopefully, we can realize we’re all pretty fast and it’s going to be a pretty good year if we all stick together.”
Frohnapfel also has a talented freshman group taking the summer practices by storm. He expects a fierce battle through the season to determine the varsity lineup that will make the trek to Ona for the state meet.
It’s competition he thinks will help his team develop into better runners from top to bottom.
“With the way the freshmen are running coming in, some of our returners are going to be in a battle just to make varsity,” he said. “When you get to meets later in the year, you just run your varsity at meets. It’s an honor to run varsity at the end of the year, and having to fight their way onto the team should make everyone better.”