Brafford's time to shine
ONA, W.Va. - After years of running in Jacob Burcham's shadow, George Washington's Matthew Brafford finally got his chance in the spotlight and he seized that opportunity in a big way on Saturday.
Brafford turned in a time of 15:39.53 to outpace Morgantown's Conner Riley by more than 25 seconds in winning the Class AAA boys cross country individual title at Cabell Midland High School.
The senior finished second to Midland's Burcham last year and had been on a tear all season, culminating in Saturday's championship performance.
"It's a relief," Brafford said. "This whole week I've been preparing, stressing out about it, and thinking about it nonstop and now to have it in the bag feels really great."
University took home the boys team prize with 64 points, besting Cabell Midland (77), Morgantown (141), Jefferson (146) and Parkersburg (158).
But in large part it was Brafford's day as he became the first person other than Burcham to win a boys title since 2009.
Brafford took a page out of Burcham's playbook, running several races outside of the state this season. And while Burcham's graduation made room for Brafford's triumph, Brafford said he is glad for the years he spent running against him.
"I am [glad he graduated] but I'm also really appreciative that he was there for three years," Brafford said. "He pushed me every single time I raced against him and it just always made me want to get better to get closer to that time."
Speaking of Burcham and cross country dynasties, a couple were extended on the girls side as University's Amelia Paladino won her second straight individual championship and the Morgantown girls picked up their third team title in a row.
Paladino clocked in at 17:55.84 and cruised by Jefferson's Abby Colbert (18:22.53) even while dealing with a virus.
"I was just trying to let it not get to me," Paladino said. "Today is a day when you run with no excuses and that's what I was really trying to think about.
"I'm ecstatic, especially because this state has wonderful competition and I'm blessed to be a part of that, I really am."
Capital's Peyton Panger came in just behind Colbert in third place and joined Hurricane's Anna Gordon, who finished seventh, as the only top-10 finishers in girls Class AAA from the Kanawha Valley.
"You have some great competition out here and you get out here and run your hardest and there are people that make you race harder than you ever have before," Panger said. "I just really appreciate the opportunity to come out here and race against the top runners in the state."
Many of those runners were wearing the red and blue of Morgantown as the Mohigans placed five of the top 11 runners and six of the top 13 in scoring 40 points, besting second-place Hurricane by 46 and third-place University by 56. Winfield and Jefferson rounded out the top five.
Morgantown coach Mike Ryan said despite entering the race as the favorite, nerves were still an issue, even for him.
"I'm always nervous," Ryan said. "Every race is a race. You've got to come out and run that day. You can come in preseason ranked really high but it comes down to what you do on this day and those girls were ready to run and they came out and ran a great race and I'm really proud of them."
According to Redskins coach Jason Henley, his son Jake became the first Hurricane boys runner to achieve all-state status since the 1980s.
Reach Ryan Pritt at 304-348-7948, email@example.com, or follow him at twitter.com/RPritt.