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Morgantown’s Irene Riggs was the high-point winner at the 2001 Class AAA girls state track meet.

Morgantown High’s Irene Riggs made school history when she was selected as the McCoy Award winner as Female Track Athlete of the Year for 2021 by the West Virginia Sports Writers Association.

She is the first Mohigan, male or female, to achieve the feat.

“We have had track at Morgantown High for over 100 years and she is the first to ever win this award,” Riggs’ coach Mike Ryan said.

When COVID began to spread going into 2020 and things began to go into lockdown, many of us lost something that we loved to do. For Riggs, running was the one thing she could rely on to shift her focus away from the news of the ongoing pandemic.

Rewind one year to Riggs’ freshman year at Morgantown. She credits the environment around the Mohigans track and field team for helping her realize her potential.

“My freshman year was really fun and we had a great team,” Riggs said. “I was pushed a lot by my teammates, so when COVID came around and everything started to shut down, I was really sad.”

Outside hobbies became a thing for many of us when the pandemic hit. Luckily for Riggs, her favorite thing to do was one of those hobbies.

“It definitely gave me something to focus on,” she said. “I was literally running every day and that was all I was doing. I even got my twin [Caroline] to come with me. She’s a swimmer and since she couldn’t go to the pool, I would take her to go run with me.”

Admittedly, Riggs had a tough time mentally during the pandemic as national travel began to halt. At that point, there wasn’t a national event to work toward, and Ryan used that to shift the focus of his runners to their teammates and getting better as a whole.

“Coach Ryan does a great job of keeping us focused on our team and not just ourselves,” Riggs said of her coach. “As a team that year, we were focused on traveling to the state meet and winning it as a team.”

Morgantown did just that, finishing in first place with a sizable lead over runner-up University in the team standings. Riggs also won the state championship in the girls cross-country meet, running a time of 18:24.88, over 30 seconds ahead of her closest pursuer.

Track season then came for Riggs, and when asked about a turning point in her early running career, she recalled running her personal best at the Night of 32s event that was organized by Ryan.

“It gave me a huge boost coming out of the pandemic because despite not running all the events that Coach Ryan would normally have us do, I still saw the work paying off,” Riggs said.

“It’s a postseason race after the state meet and before any national events,” Ryan said. “It can be a real boost of confidence if you’re able to come to that event and run well.

“It can be like Friday night football. There is nothing better than a 2-mile with the lights on and people cheering. The gun goes off and everyone is trying their hardest. She stepped up to the plate on that one.”

When the state track and field meet arrived, Riggs was coming off her personal best for cross country, which helped her take state titles in every single event in which she competed individually and as part of a relay team. Riggs was first in the 800 meters, 1,600 and 3,200 races for Class AAA girls. With Morgantown also winning the 4x800-meter relay, she was the high-point winner.

Riggs wasn’t done with the impressive finishes.

Eastbay hosted its annual cross country national championship in San Diego, where Riggs competed against the top runners who qualified from four different regions. Riggs placed first in the region before going on to achieve an impressive 14th-place finish, running a time of 17:48.5.

“I was able to meet some great people and face some amazing competition in San Diego,” Riggs told The Dominion Post in December.

Riggs was followed in the McCoy Award voting by Winfield pole vaulter Diana Goodman, Winfield sprinter-jumper Allie Germann and Ritchie County hurdler-jumper Olivia Cress.

Riggs will be honored at the 75th annual Victory Awards Dinner on May 1 at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.