CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Whatever approach Jefferson's track team has taken the last few years, it appears to be working.
The Cougars, who have captured three straight boys Class AAA championships, will be on display in the Kanawha Valley again this weekend as they compete in the 78th Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays.
The two-day meet, patterned after the state meet, starts at 4 p.m. today at Laidley Field. A total of 49 schools and just over 1,000 athletes are scheduled to participate.
No one can argue with Jefferson's traditional jaunt from the Eastern Panhandle to the Capital City for the Gazette/FOC Relays, owing to its recent run of success come state meet time. And the Cougars appear to be toting another powerhouse to town this weekend, as they own eight of the top marks statewide (according to RunWV.com) in the 18 events staged at the meet.
The Cougars will bring one of the state's most decorated track athletes, as senior sprinter Dante Price makes a triumphant return to Laidley, where he's accounted for seven state championships (four individual, three relays). He's already signed with Virginia Tech.
Jefferson comes in ranked No. 1 by RunWV.com among AAA boys teams, fueled by the efforts of Price, hurdler Warren Gray, high jumper Jordan Hardiman (who has cleared 6 feet, 9 inches) and long jumpers Martinez Grant and Dante McCarroll, two of the state's three members of the 22-foot club).
Other ranked boys AAA teams scheduled to compete are No. 2 Cabell Midland, No. 7 Point Pleasant, No. 9 Huntington and No. 10 Greenbrier East.
However, Midland distance running ace Jacob Burcham, a seven-time state champion and Oklahoma signee, will pass on the Gazette Relays for a second straight year as he's set to run in the Eastern Relays in Louisville this weekend.
The weather forecast couldn't be much better, with highs of 68 today, 71 on Saturday, light winds and sunny skies.
Other teams and athletes to keep an eye on this weekend:
Buckhannon-Upshur, the top-ranked team in West Virginia, is back again and that means another stellar show from versatile senior Emily Godwin, a nine-time individual state champ. Godwin won four events at last year's state meet, three as a sophomore and two as a freshman.
A North Carolina recruit, she owns the state's best efforts this year in four events - the high jump, long jump, 100-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles. In the 100 hurdles, Godwin will be challenged by St. Albans' Anacia Hines, whose top time this season of 15.18 seconds is a shade behind Godwin (15.09).
Hines is also a threat in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.
Others to watch in this meet are University distance runner Amelia Paladino, who has turned in the state's top times in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, and B-U weight thrower Mackenzie Leigh, currently the state's best in the shot put and discus.
Besides B-U, other ranked teams on hand are No. 4 University, No. 5 Winfield, No. 8 St. Albans and No. 10 Hurricane.
This figures to be one of the best meets of the bunch, with six state-ranked teams competing and several intriguing individual showdowns.
The distance events pit Abe Merinar of Bridgeport against Will Shaffer of Scott, who rank 1-2 statewide in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Merinar has the edge in this year's times in the 800 and 1,600 and Shaffer in the 3,200, but Shaffer is the defending AA state champ in the two longer runs. Nick Trefz of Fairmont Senior placed third in the AAA 3,200 last year.
In the pole vault, Sam Hadjis of Bridgeport (14-0) and Kyle Raines of Roane County (13-7) are far and away the class of the field and could threaten the meet mark of 14-6.
Poca's Christian Buckley should dominate in the shot put (49-11) and discus (162-81/2), as his yearly bests are significantly farther than everyone else.
The ranked teams in town are No. 1 Roane, No. 4 Bridgeport, No. 6 Fairmont Senior, No. 7 Poca, No. 8 Grafton and No. 9 Scott.