University of Charleston Stadium figures to be a fountain of youth for this weekend’s 103rd West Virginia track and field state meet.
A number of precocious freshmen and sophomores are set to make a splash on the state’s biggest stage both Friday and Saturday. In addition, much of that young talent may also figure into the battles for team championships across the six divisions of competition.
Events begin at 2 p.m. Friday with the 4x800-meter relay in all divisions, as well as selected field events.
Six different athletes either in their ninth- or 10th-grade seasons enter the state meet holding the state’s best mark in multiple events, according to figures compiled on RunWV.com. They include:
n Freshmen Allison Fields and Tori Starcher of Ripley. Fields owns the No. 1 times in the Class AAA girls 100- and 200-meter dashes, and Starcher tops the 800-, 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs. They’re a big reason why the Vikings are favored to capture their first state title, coming in as a slight favorite over Morgantown.
n Sophomore Chris Barbera, member of a super-strong corps of distance runners for Woodrow Wilson, has the fastest AAA boys clockings in the 1,600 and 3,200 and also donates a leg on the No. 1 4x800 team in the state. He’s a key figure in the Eagles’ quest to contend for a championship with favored Hedgesville.
n Aaron Withrow, the sophomore distance ace for Winfield, which figures to battle with Bridgeport for top honors in boys AA. Withrow’s season bests in the 1,600 and 3,200 are the best in the state, he holds the No. 4 time in the 800 and runs on a strong 4x800 squad.
n Capital sophomore sprinter Malcolm Fletcher is ranked atop all AAA boys in the 100 and 200 dashes. Along with soph teammate Breece Hoff, AAA’s No. 2 entry in the 100, he and the Cougars are also a threat in the 4x100 and 4x200.
n St. Joseph’s McKenzie Moran, a sophomore middle-distance runner who owns the top times in the Class A girls 400 and 800, is also No. 3 in the 1,600.
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Many eyes will be fixed on the Class AA meets, which are projected to be two-team races between Winfield and Bridgeport.
The girls meet will be an especially intriguing showdown, as Winfield is a two-time defending champion in Class AAA (before dropping back down to AA this school year), while Bridgeport has won two of the last three in double-A, and missed by one-third of a point in 2015 of making it a three-peat.
The Indians are led by standout sprinter McKenna Smith, already a six-time state champion and state meet record holder in her four events — the 100, 200 and 400 dashes and 300 low hurdles. She’s considered a near-lock to win four events for a second straight season.
The development of sophomore sprinter Isabella Bowen, who holds the state’s No. 2 times behind Smith in the 100, 200 and 400, and soph distance runner Julia Muller give Bridgeport coach Emilee Stout a beneficial injection of youth.
Stout doesn’t think the Indians are at a disadvantage with their freshman and sophomore contributors.
“Experience helps,’’ Stout said, “but every year, it seems like we have a really big freshman class and they’re very talented. So hopefully the experienced ones can help keep them calm, but that never seems to be a problem. Hopefully, that stays the same.’’
Winfield, meanwhile, boasts a deep squad that’s ranked either first or second in the state in all five relay events.
Individual standouts for the Generals include high jumper/sprinter Carly Hinkle, middle-distance runner/long jumper Kalei Jordan, hurdler/long jumper Mary Lawman and pole vaulter Shannon Riley.
In the AA boys meet, another tight tussle is anticipated between Winfield and Bridgeport, who are ranked No. 1 and 2, respectively, by RunWV.com in its state meet predictions.
Besides Withrow, the Generals lean on sprinter Trenton Pongsugree and Hayden O’Dell and pole vaulters Kurtis Moore and Jacob Durgin. Bridgeport features distance runners Jimmy Lacaria and Mark Duez, pole vaulter Josh Osborn and weight thrower Christopher Trent.
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In the other divisions this weekend:
Boys Class AAA: Hedgesville enters the fray as the favorite, according to RunWV.com, largely on the strength of its crack relay teams. The Eagles sport four of the top five relay times in the state to go along with talent like sprinter Kyrae Ramos and pole vaulter Jonathan Garver. Woodrow is a threat to win all four of the distance events — three runs and a relay — and needs to score some solid points in the high jump (Michael Beasley) and long jump (Kelshawn Grant).
Girls Class AAA: Ripley could win as many as eight of the 18 events, but likely won’t score many more points outside of those. Morgantown comes in with perhaps more depth, but most of its strong events are also Ripley’s strong events, so the ceiling could be only so high for the Mohigans. Morgantown must also make up for a lack of field-event points.
Boys Class A: Williamstown and St. Marys figure to fight for the top spot, with the Yellowjackets’ field-event strength possibly the turning factor. Williamstown has the top mark in three field events, and is second in a fourth. Depth could keep the Blue Devils at the heels of Williamstown, as they hold the second-best efforts around the state this season in seven events.
Girls Class A: As many as five teams could be involved in the title chase — Wheeling Central, Doddridge County, Magnolia, Williamstown and Ritchie County. Central holds the fastest times of the season in four of the five relay events, and also has sprinter Kenadee Wayt. Magnolia could score well in the field events.
Last year’s team champions were Cabell Midland (AAA boys), Keyser (AA boys), Williamstown (A boys), Winfield (AAA girls), Bridgeport (AA girls) and Magnolia (A girls).
Friday’s forecast calls for a high of 84 degrees with an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms.