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Cross country state meet preview: GW's Brafford on Burcham’s heels

Chip Ellis
George Washington's Matthew Brafford has been chasing Cabell Midland's Jacob Burcham (35), but hasn't been able to catch him.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While many eyes at today's state high school cross country championship meet will be on Cabell Midland's Jacob Burcham and St. Marys Maggie Drazba, there are several other story lines expected to play out in Ona.In Class AAA, George Washington's Matthew Brafford and Jefferson's Ryan Graf will battle to not only beat each other but to also challenge Burcham (see story, Page 1B) for an individual title. Brafford and Graf have run the second- and third-fastest times in the state this year behind Burcham after each won their regional meets last week.Morgantown looks to be the clear-cut favorite in the Class AAA girls race. The Mohigans feature six of the top-15 runners in the race, according to rankings on won its fourth team title last year, with Victoria Cooke taking the individual crown. Cooke is back this year and along with teammate Brynn Harshburger and University's Amelia Paladino, which could give the top of the podium a distinctive Monongalia County presence.Hurricane's Tori Dent won the Region 4 individual race last year and leads a Redskins team that could challenge for a championship and should finish near the top of the team standings.Capital won its first regional team title, led by sophomore Peyton Panger. The Mountain State Athletic Conference and Region 3 individual champion, Panger is ranked No. 9 in's individual rankings in girls Class AAA.In Class AA-A, Fairmont Senior enters today's race as the favorite to win the boys team title. The Polar Bears, competing in the lower of the two classes for the first time, are led by senior Nick Trefz, who owns the fourth-fastest time in the state this season behind Burcham, Brafford and Graf.Charleston Catholic features one of the top runners in the class, Marcus Black, who finished 11th at last year's state meet. Buffalo won last week's Region 4 meet, narrowly topping the Irish by three points.
The Bison will be without perhaps its top runner, Dylan Rich, today in Ona. Buffalo coach Patrick Hart said not having Rich would be a big blow to his team but he still expects them to do well."To lose him, it's going to be hard because of his leadership," Hart said. "He's at practice every day, he makes sure everybody stretches and does warm-ups. It's going to be hard to find someone to replace him, but he's had a great career."I feel we'll do well in the meet - I feel like we can finish in the top five. Cross country still has a AA-A division so it's hard to compete with some of those schools because for every one of our runners they might have three. But our guys have got the mindset to go out and perform well."On the girls side in Class AA-A, Philip Barbour looks to defend its team title from a year ago but could receive a strong challenge from Frankfort and Scott.The individual race features a senior-laden group expected to push Drazba, including Philip Barbour's Brianna Waybright, Frankfort's Katie Jan, Bridgeport's Morganne Phillips, North Marion's Emma Harrison and Weir's Kristen Mastrantoni.Today's races being at 10 a.m. with the Class AA-A boys getting the day started. They will be followed by the Class AA-A girls at 10:45 before Class AAA goes off at 1 p.m with the boys race and 1:45 p.m. for the girls.Ryan Pritt contributed to this story. Reach Tom Bragg at
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