Capital's Panger pulls away to win MSAC girls race
RIPLEY - The buzz going in to Wednesday's Mountain State Athletic Conference cross country championship meet was that it was a three-way race for the girls individual title.
In the end one runner, Capital sophomore Peyton Panger, proved she belonged among the best by capturing the MSAC crown with a time of 19:15.20, beating Hurricane's Tori Dent by 22 seconds and Parkersburg's Kaylee Williams by 42 seconds at the Cedar Lakes course in Ripley.
"The course is pretty flat and for me, flat courses are more difficult because I'm more of a strength runner," Panger said after the race. "There's also that element of everyone being there and watching you. The hill and the woods were a bit of a bruiser, so you've got to stay up there and just hang on."
Panger, Dent and Williams separated from the pack early in the race and stayed together for a while before Panger made her move in the wooded portion of the course.
"I'm a stronger runner in the woods and there were a lot of rolling elements," she said. "You run the downhills really fast because you don't have any pressure working against you."
Panger's previous best time this season, 19:42, came at the Patty Forgey Invitational in Rio Grande, Ohio. At that meet, the Cougars sophomore came in second to Hurricane's Dent, but the roles were reversed in Ripley. Panger said she felt good about Wednesday's race and hoped she can continue to run well at the regional and state meets in the coming weeks.
"It feels really nice, but the way I look at it is every week is different," she said. "I was feeling it this week and next week I might get sick or someone else might be feeling it. There's some people that I haven't run against yet, but I just have to keep working hard, hoping and believing in myself."
Dent's second-place finish helped propel Hurricane to the girls team title for the second year in a row.
Including Dent, the Redskins had five of the top 15 finishers, including Emily Scwendiman (7th), Joie Johnston (10th), Baylee Summers (13th) and Abby Short (14th).
Parkersburg took second place, followed by Cabell Midland, Winfield, Capital, Ripley, George Washington, St. Albans, Huntington and Princeton. Nitro and South Charleston did not participate in either the boys or girls races.
Cabell Midland continued it's decade-plus of dominance in the boys race. Knights senior Jacob Burcham cruised to his fourth individual MSAC championship with a time of 15:47.20, and the team captured its 13th consecutive conference championship.
Burcham and George Washington's Matthew Brafford paired up and jumped to the front of the pack early in the race before Burcham started to pull away near the one-mile mark. From that point it wasn't a question of who would win, but rather what time the Midland senior would put up.
"I tried to stay pretty even about the race," Burcham said. "I was aiming somewhere between 15:30 and 15:45. It felt pretty smooth and I wasn't straining or anything, so it was a good workout before reiongals and states."
Brafford finished second with a time of 16:15.80 with Midland's Avery Campbell taking third in 16:41.20.
The Knights placed nine runners in the top 15, but as nice as it is to win that many consecutive conference championships and place that many runners that high, it presents somewhat of a problem for Midland coach Chris Parsons.
Each team is only allowed seven runners at the regional and state meets, which means Parsons has some decisions to make.
"Honestly the conference meet, for us, is more about trying to determine our top seven," Parsons said. "We have got 15 very good runners that have run 18 minutes or better. We're always happy to win the conference, but the most important thing is the outcome of what happened with the teammates. They were more or less racing each other. They were also helping each other, but they're all trying to make it in to that top seven."
Parson said Brafford, a junior, presented the biggest challenge to Burcham at this meet and also gave his top runner the chance to see where the rest of the field stacks up.
"Going up against Brafford, which I think is probably the No. 2 runner in the state along with [Jefferson's Ryan] Graf, it kind of let Burcham know where everyone is," Parson said. "He looked so in control today. The goal with him is to get through regionals next week and then not only win an individual title, but also lead the team to the team title."
Parkersburg took second place and was followed by Ripley, Hurricane, George Washington, Huntington, Winfield, Capital, St. Albans, Riverside, Princeton and Woodrow Wilson.
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.