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George Washington’s MacKenzie Layne earned two regional titles and helped the girls swim team to one of the Patriots’ four state championships in the 2019-20 prep sports season. The Patriots won the Class AAA title in the Gazette-Mail Excellence in Sports Awards.

The early end to the 2019-20 prep sports calendar did nothing to impede George Washington High’s return to the peak of the Gazette-Mail Excellence in Sports Awards chart.

In this past abbreviated season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Patriots ended a five-year drought and captured first place overall in the GMEISA’s Class AAA standings, a spot they’ve found themselves five times before. GW had a run of four GMEISA titles between the 2009-10 and 2012-13 seasons, then won a fifth in 2014-15.

“We have a tradition of being competitive across the board,” George Washington athletic director Shawn Wheeler said. “And when you can compete for championships like we did … it’s just nice to have something to show for all the hard work that the kids and coaches have put in.”

George Washington climbed to the top of this podium by scaling to the top of several others. The Patriots’ finish was fueled by four team state championships. Of the three champions in the three classes — GW, Bridgeport in Class AA and Charleston Catholic in Class A — the Patriots’ four titles were by far the most among them. Bridgeport won two and Charleston Catholic had just one.

It was an even distribution between George Washington’s four titles. Two came in the fall and two in the winter. Two were boys titles and two were girls titles.

All four of the titles that George Washington won can be looked at as adding to legacies in those respective sports. The boys soccer team kicked things off with its state title, the Patriots’ sixth boys soccer championship and third in the past four seasons. The volleyball championship the Patriots won in dominant fashion — GW did not drop a set in three state tournament matches — was the seventh in program history.

GW then capped the winter season with state titles in both boys and girls swimming. It was the boys’ ninth title. They have won nine of the last 12 and in the years they didn’t win, they finished runners-up. For the girls, it was their seventh state title and first since 2016.

The girls championship could be a sign of things to come, as many of the swimmers who scored for the Patriots in the 2020 championship meet were freshmen.

“You’re watching them for the first time as freshmen, knowing you have three more years of this and they have nowhere to go but up,” coach Josh Hemsworth said following the girls’ win. “I look for them to really, possibly be able to defend this title for three more years.”

Just because those championship histories are long and storied doesn’t mean any of those teams rest on their laurels, Wheeler said.

“You’re always worried about trying to maintain that level,” Wheeler said. “Once you’re there, there’s still pressure to be there. It’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ve won several state championships, we can relax.’ You’ve got to keep working to get there.”

Wheeler said this year’s GMEISA win was a little bittersweet. He would have loved to see the boys basketball team get the chance to play in the state tournament that was canceled due to the pandemic along with the entire spring season. Among those teams, the boys tennis squad had a state title to defend, and Wheeler thought the other spring teams had the potential for strong performances.

Last season’s winner Wheeling Park finished second to GW this year, scoring 40.5 points to George Washington’s 49.5. Morgantown was third in Class AAA with 36 points.

GW’s girls topped that category’s standings by edging Morgantown 27.5-25. The boys race was even tighter, with the top four teams all within 5.5 points of each other. Cabell Midland led the boys standings with 25.5 points, with Wheeling Park second at 24, George Washington third with 22 and University fourth with 20.

Contact Derek Redd at 304-348-1712 or derek.redd@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.