It isn’t often you have two defending champions knocking heads, but that’s the case this weekend in the Class AA girls division of the 103rd state track and field meet.
Winfield and Bridgeport, competing in virtually every event, started sizing each other up Friday as the two-day meet opened at University of Charleston Stadium.
Each side turned in a meet record during the opening events, accounting for three of six marks set in Friday’s card. Winfield’s shuttle hurdles team was timed in 1 minute, 3.31 seconds, and Bridgeport star sprinter McKenna Smith bettered her own state meet marks during the 100- and 200-meter dash qualifiers with respective times of 11.87 and 24.36 seconds.
Through five of the 18 final events in the girls AA team standings, upstart Philip Barbour had scored 25 points to grab the early lead, with Winfield holding a 24-22 edge on Bridgeport — the Generals having also led the meet-opening 4x800 relay.
In the other divisions, the front-runners included: AAA boys, Hedgesville leads Woodrow Wilson 36-24; AA boys, Poca leads Bridgeport 34-33; Class A boys, Doddridge County leads Williamstown 35-29; AAA girls, Ripley leads Wheeling Park 20-18; and Class A girls, Magnolia leads Williamstown 32-23.
Much of the focus falls on the double-A girls division, as both Winfield and Bridgeport are more than familiar with recent success.
Winfield either won or shared the last two Class AAA state titles before dropping back down to AA status this season, while Bridgeport won last year’s AA crown to go along with the one it captured in 2014.
All season long, in power rankings and pre-meet projections, most notably those on RunWV.com, the Generals have been given a definite edge over the Indians due to their relay strength and overall depth. Bridgeport coach Emilee Stout, however, thinks her team can squeeze out a few more points than predictions and performance charts present.
“I think a couple of our distance girls can make up quite a few points in some of the distance events,’’ Stout said. “They have the opportunity, and I think they’re determined enough to break up the points they’re projected to score.
“And quite honestly, we’re really looking forward to these sprint relays tomorrow. We’re not expected to win, but I think we can pull out a win in one of those, so that can make a difference. We definitely have a possibility, but it will be difficult.’’
Bridgeport holds the top times from around the state in the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 this season, but those came with Smith taking a break from her normal workload of four individual events to run in those exchanges, something she’s not doing this weekend.
Still, Stout gives her relays a chance.
“We just have to be consistent with our handoffs,’’ she said, “and that’s what we’ve been preaching to them. The team with the fewest mistakes out of these relays, they will win.
“It’s going to be close, though — I’m certain of that. It’ll be a good showdown between the two teams, that’s for sure. And we’re excited about it. It’s fun.’’
Winfield’s veteran coach, David Bailey, has been to state meets where he had to watch how several opposing teams were doing, but this weekend he only has eyes for the Indians in what’s expected to end up as a two-team chase.
“There’s no doubt,’’ Bailey said. “It’s going to be tough, and it’s going to go down to the end. You have to watch it unfold and see how it shakes out, keep calm and have everybody do what they need to do. So far today, they’ve stepped up and did what I asked them to do, and that’s all I can ask of them.’’
From experience, Bailey recognizes the importance of every place-winner. In 1998 and 2015, the Generals claimed state titles while winning only two events in those meets.
“Everybody thinks you have to win,’’ Bailey said, “but I know the possibilities and I know how important that one point is. I’ve walked out of the state meet and lost by one, two points in my career, too.
“We preach a lot of that to our kids because we don’t have a McKenna Smith, that type of athlete. But we have kids who work hard and do what you ask of them, and you pray they get it done.’’
Two unfamiliar names — both of them Mountain State Athletic Conference schools — figure to make championship runs in the Class AAA meets this weekend.
Ripley, ranked No. 1 by RunWV.com in girls AAA, seeks its first-ever state track title, and got off to a decent start when Laurel Miller won the high jump with a season best of 5-8 and Tori Starcher paced the 3,200 in 10:39.04.
Distance-heavy Woodrow Wilson, which hasn’t won a Class AAA boys track crown since taking six between 1977-87, could give favored Hedgesville a run for its money this weekend, and captured the 4x800 in 7:55.98, a season-best by nearly nine seconds, and Chris Barbera added a win in the 3,200.
The first meet record of the day went to Freddy Canary of South Harrison in the boys Class A 100 dash qualifiers with a time of 10.81 seconds. He later added another mark in the 200 trials (21.50) and also won the long jump. He’s a threat for high-point honors in his division.
Also, Washington’s Lauren Zaglifa cleared 12-1 in the pole vault to break a 13-year-old meet mark in girls AAA.
Competition resumes at 9 a.m. Saturday with field events, and the running events pick up at 10. The post-meet awards ceremonies are set for 5:25 p.m.
There were no weather delays Friday despite early predictions of an 80 percent chance of thunderstorms, though a fierce storm hit about 30 minutes after all events concluded. Saturday’s forecast calls for a high of 86 degrees with a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms.