CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In sports, youth and inexperience are usually ingredients for disaster.
But if there's any team that's prepared to buck a trend, it may be the Capital girls cross country team, because the Cougars have been doing just that all season.
Capital will have one more crack at making some unexpected noise when the state meet begins at 10 a.m. Saturday at Cabell Midland High School in Ona.
Consider that first-year coach Jared Smith was finally able to build the first full squad in Capital's history out of four sophomores and three freshmen.
While many coaches have to pick and choose who will run at which events, Smith rolled with the same seven girls all season, and that seven thundered into Meadowood Park in Tornado last week and claimed a Class AAA Region 3 championship, the first such title for Capital.
"The girls have continued to improve all season long, they've worked so well together and they genuinely like each other," Smith said. "It's a phenomenal group to be around. They work so hard and they listen. There are so many amazing things to take into account; the lord has truly blessed us. The talent we have is unreal."
As a freshman last year, Peyton Panger fired the warning shot that maybe something was brewing in terms of cross country at Capital. She won the Region 3 championship - a feat she repeated this year - and went on to finish 10th at last season's state meet.
Still just a sophomore, Panger won't let a final position at one race define her year.
"I'm just hoping to run my best time of the season," Panger said. "I know I've worked really hard and where I come in is not as important as remembering the whole season is not based on one race. I've had a great season and I'm just blessed to be going to the state meet. There's a lot of talent from the North, from Hurricane, Winfield, Woodrow, and a bunch of good girls from other places. I'm just lucky to be included in this whole group of girls."
No matter what the results from Saturday end up being, Smith and Panger agree that she has improved both as a runner and a person from last year.
"I feel I've made marked improvement," Panger said. "I've put more effort into it than last year. I ran a lot more miles over the summer, went to a couple camps where I really thought about form and race psychology and feeling good throughout the season, and I put in a lot more effort behind the scenes. It's the hardest I've ever worked at anything in my life and it has shaped my whole life because I think about it all the time. That improvement is not only through running, I'm much more driven about everything."