WINFIELD — More than a year after it started wreaking havoc on sporting events worldwide, COVID-19 still carries an impact in West Virginia high school athletics.
Witness the state track meet, which has juggled its schedule due to lingering COVID protocols. Formerly a two-day weekend event with boys and girls athletes competing in all three classes at the same time, it’s been modified to span four days (June 9-12), with the bulk of the events in each class all coming on a single day — a designated day for each division to limit the number of competitors at any one time at University of Charleston Stadium.
Because of that, track coaches who rely on distance runners find themselves in a curious position as they prepare their teams for the state meet — starting with this week’s regional meets around West Virginia, including the Class AA Region 4 meet Thursday at Winfield.
Normally, top-notch distance athletes compete in the 4x800-meter relay and 3,200-meter run on the first day of the state meet, then run the 1,600 and 800 on the second day. This year, however, only the 3,200 and 400 dash have been broken off from the main schedule at the state meet and will be run the night before in each class.
The other 16 events all come on the same day, meaning many distance runners must face the prospect of going through the 800, 1,600 and perhaps 4x800 or 4x400 all in one meet. Winfield has three such athletes on its girls and boys teams, which are expected to make a run at state titles next week.
Generals girls coach David Bailey had sophomore distance ace Rachael Withrow run the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 in Thursday’s Region 4 meet to qualify for states, and will likely also use her in a relay for the June 10-11 AA meet. Bailey said he has to take into account the wear and tear on Withrow and other athletes for such plans.
“It’s definitely different,’’ Bailey said, “for the fact that those kids have to be trained to do that. You just can’t do that. We did it at the Tudor’s Biscuit meet — I ran her in three hard events to see how she was going to handle that. It’s totally different.
“You take those good kids and you have to be careful how you handle that sometimes. So we’re prepared for that, and we’ll see how it goes.’’
Winfield is obviously better the more events in which Withrow runs, since she came into this week with the state’s top AA times in the 1,600 and 3,200 and the No. 2 time in the 800. She swept all three events in Thursday’s Region 4 meet, turning in a season-best time of 2:26.20 in the 800.
However, the Generals are far and away the top team in the latest RunWV.com power rankings of girls AA programs, so Bailey could afford to be conservative with her. In Thursday’s Region 4 meet, they wound up with 242 points, more than doubling runner-up Point Pleasant (95).
On Winfield’s boys team, junior Matthew Scheneberg and freshman Brayden Marshall are both listed among the top six runners statewide in the 1,600 and 3,200 and both are capable of competing on the 4x800 relay. Scheneberg also carries the state’s No. 3 time in the 800.
So Shawn Anderson, Winfield’s boys coach, bears the same decisions as Bailey when it comes to his distance aces. Does he commit them to running in three individual events or two open events and one relay on the final day of the state meet, perhaps in grueling 90-degree temperatures?
Making Anderson’s decision even tougher is the fact that Winfield could well be involved in a four-way horse race with Oak Glen, Keyser and Point Pleasant in the boys AA state meet, as those four teams are all bunched closely atop the RunWV power rankings.
Anderson, however, doesn’t see the one-time COVID situation penalizing teams that are strong in distance events, like his.
“I don’t personally think so,’’ he said. “Maybe I just don’t look at it that way. The way I look at it, we’re all in the same boat. We’ve got kids running four events, and they’re going to have to run four events. I know there are coaches around the state that are in the same [position] as we are. You just have to plan for it. It’s just one of those things.
“I’m a little bit different because I’m doing some different things with my kids. I’m glad the SSAC approved the [3,200] and 400 the night before to give those guys a little bit of a break for the next day. The distance guys from all around the state can go home and get a little bit of a breather instead of running a [3,200, 1,600 and 800] and maybe a relay or something else the next day.
“We’re kind of distance-laden this year, and I told our guys this is the just the way it is, and this is what we’ve got to do. So we’re prepared for it, and I think we’ll be ready. We’ll see.’’
Scheneberg competed in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 for the Generals on Thursday, and also ran a leg on the 4x400. He led all three of his individual events, including a personal-best of 1:59.52 in the 800. He was the boys meet high scorer with 32 points as Winfield got past Point Pleasant 165-147 for the regional team title.
Marshall, meanwhile, placed second to Scheneberg in the 1,600 and 3,200 in the regional meet, and also ran on the 4x400 and 4x800 exchanges. Schools qualify relay teams as a unit for the state meet and can plug in different runners as they so choose, as long as no athlete competes in more than four events.
In this week’s regional meets, athletes in nearly all of the 18 individual and team events qualify for the state meet by finishing in the top three. In addition, the next four fastest times in running events or distances in most field events from any of the state’s four regionals also advance to one of the state meet’s 16 available spots.
The only events that vary are the high jump and pole vault. In those events, the top four in each region qualify, plus anyone who clears a minimum qualifying standard set by the Secondary School Activities Commission.
Winfield’s Allie Germann was the girls meet high scorer with 40 points, winning her season specialties — the 100, 200 and 400 dashes as well as the long jump.
Point Pleasant had a triple winner in Elicia Wood, who had season-bests of 5 feet, 4 inches and 48.59 seconds in taking the high jump and 300 hurdles, respectively, and also led the 100 hurdles. Black Knights teammate Addy Cottrill captured the shot and discus with personal-bests of 39-81/2 and 136-7.
In the boys meet, Wayne sprinter Ethan Bowens matched Scheneberg with three individual victories as he swept the 100, 200 and 400 dashes, including a season best of 51.06 seconds in the 400.
Winfield hurdler Shaun Webb also turned in personal records in leading the 110 highs (15.80) and 300 intermediates (41.75). The Generals’ Ian Johnson cleared a season-best 13-6 in the pole vault.