MORGANTOWN — Morgantown High’s Irene Riggs was selected as the West Virginia Sports Writers Association McCoy Award winner for Female track athlete of the year for 2022. She is the first-ever Mohigan to achieve the feat.
“We have had track at Morgantown High for over 100 years and she is the first to ever win this award,” Riggs’ coach Mike Ryan said, proudly.
When COVID began to spread going into 2020 and things began to go into lockdown, many of us lost something that we loved to do. For Riggs, running was the one thing she could rely on to shift her focus away from the news of the ongoing pandemic.
Rewind one year to Riggs’ freshman year at MHS. The environment among the Morgantown track and field team is what she credits to helping her realize her potential when it came to long-distance running in both cross-country and track.
“My freshman year was really fun and we had a great team,” Riggs said. “I was pushed a lot by my teammates, so when COVID came around and everything started to shut down, I was really sad.”
Outside hobbies became a thing for many of us when the pandemic hit. Luckily for Riggs, her favorite thing to do was one of those hobbies.
“It definitely gave me something to focus on,” she said. “I was literally running every day and that was all I was doing. I even got my twin (Caroline) to come with me, she’s a swimmer and since she couldn’t go to the pool, I would take her to go run with me.”
Admittedly, Riggs did have a tough time mentally during the pandemic as national travel began to halt. At that point, there wasn’t a national event at all to focus working toward and Ryan used that to shift the focus of his runners to their teammates and getting better as a whole.
“Coach Ryan does a great job of keeping us focused on our team and not just ourselves,” Riggs said of her coach. “As a team that year, we were focused on traveling to the state meet and winning it as a team.”
MHS did just that, finishing in first with a sizable lead over second-place University. Riggs also won the state championship in the girls’ cross-country meet, running a time of 18.24.88, over 30 seconds before second place.
Track season then came for Riggs and when asked about a turning point in her early running career, she recalled running her personal best at the Night of 32’s event that was organized by Ryan.
“It gave me a huge boost coming out of the pandemic because despite not running all the events that coach Ryan would normally have us do, I still saw the work paying off,” Riggs said.
“It’s a postseason race after the state meet and before any national events,” Ryan said. “It can be a real boost of confidence if you’re able to come to that event and run well.
“It can be like Friday night football. There is nothing better than a 2-mile with the lights on and people cheering. The gun goes off and everyone is trying their hardest. She stepped up to the plate on that one.”
When the state track and field meet came for West Virginia, Riggs was coming off of her personal best for cross-country, which helped her take state titles in every single event she competed in individually and as part of a relay team. Riggs won first in the 800m, 1600m and 3200m races for Class AAA girls. As well as MHS winning the 4x800m relay, she was the high-point winner.
Riggs wasn’t done with the impressive finishes.
Eastbay hosted their annual cross-country national championships in San Diego, where Riggs competed against the top runners from four different regions, all who had to qualify in their region first. Riggs finished first in the region before going on to achieve an impressive 14th place finish, running a time of 17:48:5.
“I was able to meet some great people and face some amazing competition in San Diego,” Riggs told The Dominion Post in December.
Only a junior at MHS, Riggs is certainly one athlete in the state of West Virginia to keep an eye on going forward. Riggs topped the balloting followed by Winfield pole vaulter Diana Goodman, Winfield sprinter-jumper Allie Germann and Ritchie County hurdler-jumper Olivia Cress.
Riggs will be honored at the 75th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 1 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.