Rich chance to make noise
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some of the Kanawha Valley's smaller schools could have the area's biggest impact in the 96th state track and field meet, which begins at 2 p.m. today at Laidley Field.
The Kanawha Valley hasn't produced a state meet team champion since 2008, and that trend is likely to continue this weekend. However, a pair of Class A schools figures to make a lot of noise.
Buffalo, fueled by senior distance runner Dylan Rich, is the area's top-rated squad, holding down the No. 4 spot in the RunWV.com power rankings. The Bison is no threat to the depth of defending team champion Doddridge County for the No. 1 position, but coach Richie Wyant thinks his athletes could make a run at runner-up honors.
"Our goal is to do the best we could,'' Wyant said. "Right now, we're fourth in the power rankings, but I'd like to be second or third.
"Doddridge is so far out there - it'd be unrealistic [to win]. They're just awesome, a great bunch of kids, and hard to catch. We're going to work for that runner-up trophy. That's what our goal is, what we'll try to get to.''
With Rich's efforts, the Bison might just turn the trick.
Rich won two individual events in last year's state meet, taking the 800 meters in 2:00.23 and the 1,600 in a meet-record 4:23.18. He also anchored the Bison to a meet mark of 8:09.05 in the 4x800 relay, shattering the former standard by more than 12 seconds.
This season, Rich has already turned in faster times in his lead events - 1:55.99 in the 800 and 4:19.29 in the 1,600 - and owns a rare victory over Cabell Midland phenom Jacob Burcham in the shorter run.
Rich also owns the state's best clocking in the 3,200 (9:42.53), a race in which he's improved greatly over the last 12 months. He placed sixth in the 3,200 in last year's meet. Also, he makes the Bison a threat again in the 4x800 with the state's No. 1 time this season of 8:35.21.
Wyant thinks Rich could eclipse his own record in the 1,600 and also nab the meet mark in the 800, which is 1:59.76.
"He could set records in those,'' Wyant said. "I think he should, if nothing comes up. He's a great runner and he's worked really hard to get where he's at. He deserves all the accolades he's getting right now.''
Wyant hopes Rich, who's being heavily recruited by the University of Kentucky, has a lot of gas remaining Saturday to compete in his "core strength'' events, the 800 and 1,600. To do that, Rich will have to avoid burning himself out in the 4x800 and 3,200 today.
"Usually,'' Wyant said, "if it's close in the 4x8, if he's within 30 yards, he'll catch whoever's out there. But I've told our other guys to not let that happen so Dylan doesn't have to kill himself. Hopefully the other three runners will do their job, so he can really exert some energy in the 3,200 late that night.''
Junior Isaiah Robinson makes Buffalo a threat to score in the 400 and 800. The Bison's sprint relay teams also received an infusion of talent this week as the school's baseball team finished its season, allowing speedy Laythen Good and Garison Erwin to join the track squad.
Doddridge's powerhouse team, seeking its third straight state crown, banks on athletes such as distance runner Caleb Moore, high jumper-hurdler Dillon Muhly-Alexander, pole vaulter Dyllon Hayes, weight thrower Isaac Britton and hurdler Daniel Plaugher.
Charleston Catholic's boys, No. 6 in the power rankings, rely on strong relays, holding one of the top four spots in the state in the 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800.
Here's the outlook in the other divisions:
Girls Class A
Williamstown is a heavy favorite to claim its third title in a row, led by sprinter Andrea Chidester, strong relays and pole vaulter Lincoln Postlewaite, whose season-best of 11 feet matches the best in the state in any class.
D'Andra Swiger of Doddridge is a threat to win four events as she competes in the 200, 300 hurdles, long jump and high jump.
Charleston Catholic's girls, No. 5 in the power rankings, feature solid distance runners and relay teams.
Boys Class AA
Bridgeport is the team to watch behind distance runner Abe Merinar. However, Merinar will have to deal with Fairmont Senior's Nick Trefz and Scott's Will Shaffer, the latter the defending state champ in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Christian Buckley of Poca brings the state's top marks in the shot put (49-11) and discus (162-81/2).
Girls Class AA
Frankfort figures to be the odds-on favorite for the championship trophy due to the presence of Bria Welker and Katie Jan, who combined for all 74 of their team's points last year.
Welker, who won four state-meet events a year ago, leads the pack in the 100, 200, 400 and 300 hurdles. Jan runs in the 800, 1,600, 3,200 and 4x400 and became the first athlete in the 37-year history of the Mineral County school to receive an appointment to the Naval Academy.
Boys Class AAA
Jefferson looks to be an overwhelming choice to snag its fourth straight title, something that hasn't been done in this division since Cabell Midland (1996-99).
Besides sprinter and Division I recruit Dante Price, the Cougars boast a 22-foot long jumper (Martinez Grant), a 6-10 high jumper (Jordan Hardiman) and a top-notch hurdler (Warren Gray). A false start in the regional 4x100, however, denies that exchange a chance to better its own state meet record set last year.
Midland brings top guns Burcham and hurdler Nate Moore, but could be running for second to Jefferson.
The Kanawha Valley owns the state's top effort in just one event this season - the pole vault, as Capital's Tristan Slater and Winfield's Chris Cochran have each cleared 13-6. George Washington's Matt Brafford will chase Burcham in the 1,600 and 3,200.
Girls Class AAA
Morgantown and Buckhannon-Upshur are expected to battle it out for the championship, each flexing its muscle in its own separate events.
The Mohigans lean on sprinter Natasha Trott and pole vaulter-long jumper Rebekah LaFata. The Bucs sport nine-time individual state champ Emily Godwin in the hurdles and jumps and the weight-tossing trio of Mackenzie Leigh, Mercedes Dowell and Megan Wilfong.
Godwin could get a challenge in the 100 hurdles, as John Marshall freshman Torri Derrow holds the state's fastest clocking of 14.82 seconds.
Barkley Castro of Winfield is the top-rated runner in the 800 and the Generals hold the state's best time of 49.58 in the 4x100.
Winfield is No. 5 and Hurricane No. 9 in the power ratings. Those are two schools that accounted for the Kanawha Valley's last state track titles - in 2008, Hurricane claimed AAA girls and Winfield swept AA girls and boys.
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.