— By David Walsh
ONA, W.Va. — A course-record shattering run to start the morning was followed by a school getting its first individual state champion. When it was over, a four-peat was claimed by both overall team champions in Class AAA.
Morgantown’s Irene Riggs began the cool, sunny Saturday morning with an amazing run to win the individual title in Class AAA girls at the 2022 WVSSAC Cross Country Championships at Cabell Midland High School. She covered the 5K course in 16:32, besting the mark of 17:17 set by Maggie Drazba of St. Marys in 2012.
“Coming in [the goal] was break 17 [minutes],” said Riggs, who’ll run in college at Stanford. “This means a lot. It’s an opportunity to leave a mark.”
Morgantown won the team title for a third straight year with 32 points as it had five runners on the podium. Madeline Gump was fourth, Amelia Summers eighth, Anna Lester ninth and Sophie Renner 10th. In individuals, Audrey Hall of Hurricane was second (18:34) and Savannah Pritt of Cabell Midland third.
“That was a goal for the team coming in,” said Riggs, who was on the Mohigans’ team that started the run in 2019. “I was a freshman that first one. To go out with four is special.”
University and Cabell Midland tied for second with 77 points. University took home the runner-up spot.
In Class AAA boys, Ty Steorts of Hurricane won in 15:27. The sophomore became the first state champion in school history. Teammate Aaron Kidd was second and Drew Zundel of University third.
Steorts was runner-up to Josh Edwards of University a year ago.
“I planned to stay in the pack and then make a move,” Steorts said. “Last year definitely gave me confidence in running. I was not aware of being the first state champ. It does feel good.”
University won the Class AAA team title for the fourth straight year, this time with 39 points. Hurricane was second with 56 and Wheeling Park third with 77.
Depth for the Hawks made the difference. Ryan Blohm was seventh, Jacob West eighth, Ethan Conroy 10th, Tyler Umbright 11th, Gavin Warton 12th and Jack Overfield 18th.
Thus, the four-peat, for the two Region 1 powerhouses.
For Riggs, she took off at the starting gun and dominated the field.
“For a while I struggled, then I got motivated,” she said. “Something clicked. Go out fast, turnover (foot speed). It worked for me.”
When Riggs came on to the track to finish, she was startled to see the scoreboard clock in the 15-minute range.
“I can’t lie,” she said. “When I came on the track and saw the time, I was pretty startled. To win team means so much, too. It’s special.”
The victory comes after Riggs injured her right foot early in the season when a car ran over it. She wore a boot as she went through rehab.
“I was down, a bit confused,” Riggs said. “This is the best outcome you could ask for. From a boot to this. I didn’t know how I’d bounce back.”
Riggs had planned to attend a college on the East Coast until she made a trip to Stanford, a member of the Pac-10.
“Went out for a visit and fell in love with it right away,” she said.
Dr. Michael Ryan, the Morgantown coach, was oh so proud of Riggs and the team’s overall performance.
“Definitely a great day,” he said. “For the seniors, what an accomplishment. Irene … what can I say? Coming off the injury, she worked on her fitness and aerobics. It all paid off.
Cabell Midland coach Chris Parsons put it best.
“Not only the best in West Virginia, one of the best in the nation,” he said. “That’s how good she is.”
University coach Ed Frohnapfel said the depth on the team made the difference as Hurricane got first, second and fifth.
“Our strength is through the seventh guy,” said Frohnapfel, who has just one senior on the team. “Way better at the 3-4-5 spots on down and it paid off.”
Hurricane coach Jimmy Cunningham tipped his hat to Steorts and University’s team.
“He and team put in so much work,” Cunningham said. “When you go 1-3-5, you think you’ll win. University is just a solid team. That’s the way it goes.”
In Class A, Alyssa Sauro of Williamstown finished first in 19:01. Virginia Haddox of St. Marys was second and Alexis Lamb of Doddridge County third. Sauro came in off a mid-season injury.
As a team, Williamstown had five runners on the podium and won with 31 points. Doddridge County was second with 58 and Trinity Christian third with 92. Individually for Williamstown, Brianna Winsett was seventh, Ava Lightfritz eighth, Sydney Anderson ninth and Lexi Wynn 10th.
For the boys, Wheeling Central’s Aidan Scott repeated as champion in 16:23. Chase Trembly of Williamstown was second at 16:57 and Donovan Tanouye of Paw Paw third at 17:06.
Williamstown won the boys title as well with 43 points. Trembly paced the Yellowjackets, while Julian Johnson and Zach Cannon provided eighth and ninth-place finishes, respectively.
Buffalo was runner-up with 71 points, followed by Doddridge in third with 87.
Class AA was the final race of the day and Winfield freshman Ava Ethridge won the girls title at 19:26. Generals’ teammate Rachel Withrow was second at 19:48, followed by Liberty Harrison’s Destiny Berriman at 19:51.
The pace set by Ethridge and Withrow allowed Winfield to claim the team title with 60 points, while Fairmont Senior finished runner-up with 74 and Philip Barbour took third with 93.
Winfield’s Brayden Marshall was the individual AA boys champion at 15:50. He was followed by a trio of runners from AA team champion Frankfort: Steven Kent Niland (16:09), Garrett Ferguson (16:24) and Luke Duncan (16:42).
The efforts from those three Falcons helped lead Frankfort to a championship with 33 points. Winfield took second with 74 followed East Fairmont with 105.