No matter how hard Peyton Panger trains or how remarkably she runs on the track, she knows there’s a limit to where she’ll wind up. And it won’t be as a state champion.
Panger, Capital’s junior distance ace, swept all three of her individual races at the Class AAA Region 3 meet at Laidley Field Friday and put herself in solid position for next weekend’s 100th state meet.
Trouble is, she has the misfortune of competing at the same time as University’s Millie Paladino, perhaps the state’s best distance runner of her generation.
Greenbrier East (girls) and George Washington (boys) came away with the Region 3 crowns as teams qualified entries into the state meet. GW edged East’s boys by two points and Capital by four.
Paladino enters the state meet as the overwhelming favorite to take the girls 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs and most likely set meet records in each event.
Panger, who owns the state’s No. 2 times in the 1,600 and 3,200 and the No. 4 time in the 800, could run the race of her life next weekend and still come in second by a sizable margin to Paladino, a West Virginia University recruit.
“Paladino’s always going to be at another level,’’ Panger said, “and she is an inspiration to me, but she will always be at another level. I can’t hope to get to that this year, but she has inspired me to always run harder and always get faster. It’s beautiful to watch her run.’’
A gap has developed not only between Paladino and Panger, but another between Panger and the rest of the state’s AAA girls.
Paladino’s seasonal bests of 4:43.69 in the 1,600 (before regionals) and 10:00.42 in the 3,200 are 12-plus and 39-plus seconds better, respectively, than the existing state meet records and she is a mere two-hundredths of a second off the meet mark in the 800. It’s become almost a formality that she’ll get two, or perhaps three, state records next week.
Panger’s consolation prize? Maybe running second-best to a runner who’s second to none.
Going into the regional meets around the state, Panger’s No. 2 times of 5:00.75 in the 1,600 and 10:51.49 in the 3,200 stand almost eight seconds and 18-plus seconds, respectively, ahead of the No. 3 times.
With no competition, Panger nearly cracked the 5-minute mark in the 1,600 despite a steady rain Friday, settling for a time of 5:01.95.
“I’ve learned how to race myself,’’ Panger said, “because there’s such a gap [behind Paladino] that’s unattainable. But learning how to race myself and run my own race has made me faster than I ever thought.’’
Prior to the season, Panger set goals of 5 minutes in the 1,600 and 11 minutes in the 3,200 and has already accomplished the latter.
She’s noticed the improvement, too, having finished third in the state meet 1,600 and fourth in the 3,200 last year. In cross country season, she placed third behind Paladino and Jefferson’s Abby Colbert.
“I broke 11 minutes at the Gazettes, so I already met my season goal,’’ she said, “so with that under my belt, I’m just looking to run a solid race where I should finish and hopefully break 11 again and have a good night, because you never know what’s going to happen at the state meet.’’
And the bonus prize? After the state meet, there will be no more chasing Paladino, who moves on to college.
“No, there will not,’’ Panger said. “And I will work just as hard, if not harder, to obtain what I hope to be my best season yet.’’
Another Capital athlete had the small crowd buzzing again Friday, as Tristan Slater cleared 15-6 to win the boys pole vault. Slater then missed three attempts at 16 feet, which would have been a personal record.
It was his first crack at Laidley Field’s brand-new pole vault standard, which replaces one that was sort of wobbly and not exactly straight.
In last week’s Mountain State Athletic Conference meet, Slater thought he had cleared 16-0, but a subsequent re-measurement reduced that height to 15-11 3/4. It’s believed that would have made him just the state’s second athlete to ever clear 16 feet, trailing only Parkersburg’s Casey Freed (17-0 in 1995).
Slater, a junior and the defending state champion in the pole vault, is another competitor who has to provide his own motivation, since his closest rival (Winfield’s Chris Cochran) is nearly 2 feet behind. So what’s his goal for the state meet, then?
“I want to clear 16 feet,’’ he said, “then 16-2 and then keep progressing 2 inches up from that point on. I condition myself to where I can just keep jumping over and over again.’’
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GW’s boys regional championship team had three individual double winners in distance ace Matt Brafford (1,600, 3,200), hurdler Will Walker (110 highs, 300 intermediates) and weight thrower Nick Peyatte (shot, discus). Peyatte produced a season’s best of 51-1 in the shot.
In the girls meet, there were two other multiple winners besides Panger. Taking two events each were Molli Cunningham of Ripley (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles) and Maddie McClintic of Region 3 champ Greenbrier East (100 dash, long jump).
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.