MORGANTOWN — Preston High cross country coach Paul Martin has led teams in the area for the past 27 years, and 2023 might be his most unique campaign to date.
Four of the top five girls runners are sisters.
There’s junior Hallie Simmons, along with freshman Ava Simmons, as well as twin sophomores Autumn Myers and Delilah Myers.
“It’s a very cool experience,” Hallie Simmons said. “I started competitive running in sixth grade, but I’ve always loved to run and stay active. I didn’t have to encourage my younger sister to get involved with it either, she did it on her own.”
And in her first year at the varsity level, Ava Simmons is thriving.
“At the start of the season, I wasn’t sure of what to expect,” Ava Simmons said. “I’m very surprised. I have been blessed with a very successful season and hope that I continue to improve. I have goals to make it to state all four years.”
Last year, the Preston girls failed to qualify for the state tournament for the first time in decades. The Knights are happy to be back this year after a third-place finish at the Class AAA Region I meet.
The state championships are on Saturday in Ona.
“This has been a very gratifying season,” Hallie Simmons said. “It hurt not qualifying for states last year, but it was an experience that I learned from. It also helped me appreciate qualifying for states this year that much more — especially being able to do it with my team.”
The Preston team is also comprised of senior leader Ella White, sophomore Hannah Liston and freshman Leighton Biermann. The girls have formed a strong bond by running together and also hanging out outside of practice.
For the twins, they’ve always been training partners but also enjoy camping, swimming, kayaking and playing badminton. They like to keep track of who wins races between them.
“We are competitive with each other,” Delilah Myers said. “Back in middle school, we did try to beat each other, and it was a competition within a competition, but now in high school, we focus more on running our own races than racing each other.”
They started their cross country journey several years ago by joining a program called Girls on the Run.
“We have more similarities than differences,” Autumn Myers said. “We always train together and we run about the same pace. We do everything in our lives together since we like a lot of the same things.”
Martin said the girls’ team set three goals for this season. One was to win the Big Ten Conference championship. Preston did that on Oct. 12. Another was to qualify for the state meet. Preston did that on Oct. 19.
Now, the Knights hope to finish in the top four places at the state meet.
“It will take an astonishing effort, but I know these girls will always try their best and will leave it all out on the course,” Martin said. “This is one of the best teams I have ever coached.”
There is also the uniqueness on the boys’ side.
Junior Damian Rumer ran a 16:30.95 at regionals to come in 11th place. By way of a mathematical formula, and with an assist from Martin’s nephew Coen Thomas, who joined the team to fill out the roster, Rumer is running Saturday, representing Preston as an individual.
Morgantown, Trinity Christian and University also qualified for the state meet.
Both the Trinity boys’ and girls’ teams won the OVAC 1A-2A championships before finishing in second place to Doddridge County in the Class A Region II meet.
“It’s been another exciting and memorable season for the Trinity Christian cross country teams, and I have been blessed to be able to coach them this year,” said Trinity coach John Barnett. “They work extremely hard, and I’ve seen improvement in every runner. One thing that has been very special this year is the team unity. Everyone encourages each other through every workout. It doesn’t matter if it’s the boys’ team encouraging the girls or vice versa.
The boys’ team includes Miles Steptoe, who was the fourth-place individual qualifier and school record holder, Robert Kincaid, Hamilton Breakey, Ethan Tomlinson, Chase Livengood, Ben Akers and Bryson Sanders.
The girls’ team includes Jenna Barnett, the fifth-place individual qualifier. who broke her own school record this year by more than 30 seconds, Tori Hovatter, Kylie Cline, Brianna Blake, Caelyn Unger, Amelia Fisher, Katherine Kincaid and Faith Perry.
“The genuine care for each other and wanting to see everyone succeed, whether you’re the first one in or the last, has been amazing,” Barnett said. “I think that is a big reason we have seen success this year.”
The Morgantown girls’ team is looking for their fourth-straight state championship after winning both OVACs and regionals this season.
“This group has grown and come together as a team throughout this season,” MHS coach Mike Ryan said. “It’s been a positive experience and we are grateful to have the opportunity to compete on Saturday.”
Girl qualifiers include freshmen Megyn Amsler, Ryleigh Freshour, Lauren Hawkins, Allison Hawkins; sophomore Olivia Riley; juniors Maraid Johnson, Sophie Renner, Sophia Schneider and seniors Madeline Gump and Jennifer O’Palko.
The Mohigan boys’ team last won a state title in 2017. This year, they placed second at OVACs and regionals.
Boy qualifiers are freshmen Maxwell Abildso, Joaquin Summers; sophomore James Stacy; juniors Donald Adjeroh, Andrew Carlton, Finlay Lorimer, Caleb Young and seniors Quinn Mudry, Duncan Snyder and Zachary Workman.
The University teams are also mainstays at the highest level in the state. The boys’ team enters today with an OVAC and regional title under their belt.
“The boys and girls teams have been running very well in the month of October,” UHS coach Ed Frohnapfel said. “Progress has been shown by both teams in both the OVAC championship races and the Region I AAA races. We are looking forward to racing at the state championships again this year.”
Drew Zundell, who will run at Syracuse next year, leads the Hawk boys after an individual OVAC and regional title.
Tyler Umbright, Jake West, Ethan Conroy, Logan Conroy, Gavin Whorton and Jack Overfield round out the boys’ team.
Abby Rogers won the regional championship and is joined by fellow UHS girls Adelyn Tager, Claire von Boetticher, Sophia Bell, Izzy West, Shatyra Turner and Haley Kramer.
Clay-Battelle’s Wyatt Sharpless will also compete at the state meet after making it as an individual qualifier.
BY MATTHEW PEASLEE