ONA, W.Va. - Coming into Saturday, if any team race was going to be competitive, odds were it was going to be in the Class AA-A girls field.But it's doubtful anyone could've predicted just how close it ended up being.Philip Barbour and Charleston Catholic each recorded 91 points, with the Colts earning the tiebreaking nod by virtue of their sixth runner Haley Truman (33rd) finishing ahead of Catholic's sixth runner Catherine Casingal (69th).According to Cabell Midland cross country coach Chris Parsons, it was the first state cross country championship decided by a tiebreaker at least since the event started being held in Ona in 2006.
Those two teams finished just five points ahead of third-place Berkeley Springs with Williamstown and Oak Glen rounding out the top five.It was the fourth title in a row for Philip Barbour, the most by any girls team in state history, but it came with some anxious moments for coach Melissa Kaiser as she and several parents and fans frantically updated their phones waiting for the final results to be posted online."We had the conversation in practice the night before regionals that you never know what's going on at the front of the race," Kaiser said. "At regionals, our boys placed third because of our No. 6 runner. So we had that conversation again this week.""It's definitely a great thing. It's a relief - I thought No. 1 was a relief, oh my goodness. It has been a very stressful time listening to the predictions and listening to what people say everywhere we go."Despite missing a championship by the narrowest of margins, the Irish were far from disheartened.Regular No. 1 runner Peyton Mullen ran No. 3 on Saturday and has been hampered while recovering from pneumonia, and the Irish's top four finishers were all freshmen and sophomores."We had a lot of girls step up and had a lot of girls do what they were supposed to," Welch said. "We were hoping to get second with an outside shot at first. We knew we would probably be a top-three team. We've got them all back next year except for one so we have something to look forward to next year."Grafton freshman Alicia Parsons was the individual winner on the girls side. Parsons is following a span in which St. Marys' Maggie Drazba won three out of four titles including, one in her freshman season.Parsons said Drazba's dominance is motivation moving forward."It was exciting and I liked it," Parsons said. "[We were close] until about the 2-mile mark, then we spread out. This is my last race so I gave it all I could."[Drazba] is definitely one of my inspirations."
No team on Saturday turned in as dominant a performance as the Bridgeport boys did as the senior Abe Merinar ran a 16:20.05 to earn the individual title and help build a 59-point winning margin.Bridgeport's 45 points bested Philip Barbour (104), Fairmont Senior (131), Ritchie County (139), and Keyser (151) while Merinar came in ahead of Webster County's Brettley Harris by just over seven seconds."It has been a great four years with them," Merinar said of his team. "I think our whole top seven was under 18 minutes - compared to where we were four years ago, that's unbelievable. My freshman year our top one was right around 18, now to have seven of us is really awesome. We work hard."Buffalo sophomore Hayden Harrison came in third with a time of 16:28.6 and was the only Kanawha Valley athlete to earn all-state honors on either side of Class AA-A."I'm happy," Harrison said. "I wanted to get a little better time but I didn't quite get there. It was hard."Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, email@example.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.