KINGWOOD — Preston alumnus and current Edinboro University (Pa.) runner Ward Ries has experienced plenty of success in his career. A multi-time all-state athlete in high school, Ries was a two-time Top 10 finisher at the WVSSAC Class AAA Cross Country Championships, and the 2018 Class AAA 3200 meter champion.
His good fortune continued his freshman year at Edinboro, as he nabbed sixth-place at the PSAC Cross Country Championship and earned runner-up honors in the 3000 meter steeplechase at the PSAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
While its clear Ries is gifted at running, he doesn’t know if he’d have made it near as far as he has if it wasn’t for Matt Bright.
“Before I worked with Matt, I had accomplished nothing, really, and a big part of that was that I wasn’t motivated,” Ries said. “He saw something in me, and told me that if I wanted to be good I had to train for it. I would credit almost any success I had to Matt, and just having him train and coach me.”
Bright is the husband of Hilary McConnell Bright, who was a runner at Preston before continuing her career collegiately at Alderson Broaddus University, and currently helps coach the program at Preston. Bright himself was a graduate of Ripley High School, and spent his collegiate years running for Davis and Elkins.
After moving to Kingwood in 2015 with his partner, Bright knew he wanted to get involved with the local running scene. His full-time job, however, didn’t leave coaching at the school as an option. His relationship with Preston cross-country head coach Paul Martin — via his wife — created an opportunity with Ries, then a sophomore.
“I made the decision I wanted to become a better runner, and Coach Martin pushed me in the direction of Matt. It was always awesome to have him as a coach,” Ries said. “He knew what he was talking about, he’s really passionate about the sport, but most importantly he would always do workouts and runs with me — he’d never expect me to do anything he wouldn’t do.”
“I knew I wanted to be a part of the Preston program and help, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that,” Bright said. “I started training individually with Ward, and he began having success — from there it was kind of suggested we get things started back up.”
The “thing” in question was NOTSERP Track Club, which was an organization that had died out in the county. Previously, it was a parent-organized group for Preston runners who competed on the regional and national level to run under at meets in the offseason. Ries had quite limited success before working with Bright, but quickly began to make waves on the statewide scene. He began to encourage his fellow runners at Preston to join him, and from there, NOTSERP was reborn.
“Ward’s impact on the program is going to last well beyond his graduation,” Bright said. “He trained with me really hard for a year, and then he got on the podium at the state meet, and it felt like everything changed. People really began to buy into the year-round work.”
“I went out and encouraged other runners to join us. Once people saw the success I was having, people started coming out more and more. Good coaching is going to draw a crowd regardless,” Ries added.
The club has since provided a steady year-round training system that didn’t previously exist in the county, as well as a community aspect to offseason training for kids within the program. The group also provides different resources to the athletes, such as a partnership with the Preston County Parks and Recreation Commission — the club is now officially known as PCPaRC/NOTSERP — as well as with WVU to have access to the Shell Building’s indoor track during the winter.
“If I didn’t have NOTSERP and Matt, I wouldn’t have had the success I’ve had. There’s just not a whole lot going on out here in the offseason — having him here to help train us and keep us running a few times a week really helps a lot,” Preston cross-country and track senior Cole Friend said.
“To have that option a few days a week in county to get these kids some training is wonderful. It has to happen. Every program works hard in season, but the differences are the ones that have some sort of guided approach year-round are more successful,” Martin said.
As the group continues to grow, Bright has ideas for the future. For now he primarily hopes to continue to help restoring success to the Preston program and bringing the community together through running.
“The goal was to ultimately bring the program back to where it was during the earlier years — it was the reason why we got this started again,” Bright said. “Over the last year, I’ve kind of broadened my vision with it. We almost see this growing into more of a community group. Right now we’re more focused on developing talent at the scholastic level.”
“I’d just encourage others to get out here. It is really a community. Anyone can come out here and do these workouts with us, it’s not just for cross-country and track kids,” Friend said.