The 79th annual Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays provides for many of the Mountain State’s top track teams and athletes an opportunity at a trial run in preparation of the looming state championship.
The meet, to be held today and Saturday, annually features a gathering of the sport’s most talented high school athletes, and this year presents no difference, with approximately 50 teams and in excess of 1200 individual participants looking to see how they stack against the state’s best at the University of Charleston’s Laidley Field.
“It’s kind of a prep for the state meet, it’s a sneak preview,” Cabell Midland coach Chris Parsons said. “It’s going to be exciting to see all those guys compete and to get to compete against them.
“I think what it does for a lot of teams is it lets you know where you are right now and can you do anything in the next three-week span to get to where you want to be and can you make any adjustments to be better at regionals and states, so that’s kind of what we’re gearing for.”
This year’s field includes four of the state’s six reigning track team champions. The Jefferson (Class AAA), Ritchie County (AA) and Doddridge County (A) boys teams return as title-holders as the Buckhannon-Upshur (AAA) girls enter as defending champs, too.
In addition to featuring incredible talent, the meet spans two days in the exact order of events just as the state meet, providing coaches and athletes a chance to forecast how athletes perform within the schedule.
“It’s a good dry run for us for the state meet,” Buffalo coach Richie Wyant said. “It’s actually a carbon copy of what you’ll see at the state meet.”
Like the state meet, each of West Virginia’s three classes will compete individually, and the Bison boys squad enters ranked second in Class A, according to www.runwv.com rankings.
Buffalo features strength across the board with distance runner Hayden Harrison, middle distance specialist Isaiah Robinson, sprinter Jordan Tucker and solid hurdlers led by Gabe Garrison and Cody Sheppard, among other athletes.
“I knew that this would be the best team that I’ve ever had as far as from top to bottom and side to side,” Wyant said. “We knew we were going to be competitive. We weren’t sure if we were going to be good enough to win it or not. That depends on everybody else, but I think we’ve gotten the best out of our kids, and that’s really all we can do, so I’ve been happy with what everybody’s done and hope as the state meet comes everybody continues to improve.”
In the Class A field, Buffalo will challenge top-ranked Doddridge for the meet’s boys team title. Gilmer, ranked sixth, and No. 7 Charleston Catholic will vie for top positions, too.
Doddridge lists second in girls team rankings and highest among attending Class A teams. Fourth-rated Charleston Catholic figures to challenge Doddridge for the girls championship, with No. 6 Tyler Consolidated, too.
At Midland, Parsons said, like Wyant, he’s impressed with how his boys team has competed, especially following the graduation of a significant senior class.
“Our guys are coming along pretty darn good,” Parsons said. “They’re honestly probably a little bit ahead of where I thought they would be at this point, so that’s very promising.”
Midland, a traditional track and cross country power, will battle for points with Jefferson (No. 2 boys; eighth, girls), as well as Parkersburg (first, boys; second, girls). Other top AAA schools expected to attend include Buckhannon-Upshur (sixth, girls), Capital (seventh, boys), Huntington (ninth, boys; fourth, girls), Hurricane (10th, boys), University (third, boys; fifth, girls) and Winfield (sixth, boys; ninth, girls).
In AA, Herbert Hoover and Poca, ranked seventh in boys, will contend with several top-ranked teams. Bridgeport (fifth, boys; first, girls), Ritchie County (first, boys; third, girls) and Roane County (second, boys; ninth, girls) will contest for the team championships.
The Gazette Relays, as the name states, figure an ideal meet to help round out relay lineups.
“You experiment a little bit,” Parsons said. “This is a time to test it. If you’re thinking of running a kid in four events, this is the time to test it, because you’re more apt to do it at this meet, because it is a two-day thing versus regionals or a regular meet. Anything you want to experiment with or test out, this is the time to do it.”
For Buffalo, that means finding the right group for its 4x800 boys relay in defense of its three-consecutive state titles.
“We’re not sure we’re quite where we want to be,” Wyant said, “but potentially, I think we could be there with the top two or three times we’ve seen in the state, according to the rankings on runwv.com. Certainly, we ‘re not feeling like we have a lock on it quite yet, but we feel like we can be competitive.”
The state championship lies three weeks away, but the real tests begin now as athletes prepare for title time beginning with the Gazette Relays.
“There’s no question, we’re excited,” Parsons said. “We talk about this meet. The Gazette Relays will let you know (where you stand), because that’s where the quality comes in.”