CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Some of the Kanawha Valley's smaller schools could have the area's biggest impact in the 96th state track and field meet, which begins at 2 p.m. today at Laidley Field.
The Kanawha Valley hasn't produced a state meet team champion since 2008, and that trend is likely to continue this weekend. However, a pair of Class A schools figures to make a lot of noise.
Buffalo, fueled by senior distance runner Dylan Rich, is the area's top-rated squad, holding down the No. 4 spot in the RunWV.com power rankings. The Bison is no threat to the depth of defending team champion Doddridge County for the No. 1 position, but coach Richie Wyant thinks his athletes could make a run at runner-up honors.
"Our goal is to do the best we could,'' Wyant said. "Right now, we're fourth in the power rankings, but I'd like to be second or third.
"Doddridge is so far out there - it'd be unrealistic [to win]. They're just awesome, a great bunch of kids, and hard to catch. We're going to work for that runner-up trophy. That's what our goal is, what we'll try to get to.''
With Rich's efforts, the Bison might just turn the trick.
Rich won two individual events in last year's state meet, taking the 800 meters in 2:00.23 and the 1,600 in a meet-record 4:23.18. He also anchored the Bison to a meet mark of 8:09.05 in the 4x800 relay, shattering the former standard by more than 12 seconds.
This season, Rich has already turned in faster times in his lead events - 1:55.99 in the 800 and 4:19.29 in the 1,600 - and owns a rare victory over Cabell Midland phenom Jacob Burcham in the shorter run.
Rich also owns the state's best clocking in the 3,200 (9:42.53), a race in which he's improved greatly over the last 12 months. He placed sixth in the 3,200 in last year's meet. Also, he makes the Bison a threat again in the 4x800 with the state's No. 1 time this season of 8:35.21.
Wyant thinks Rich could eclipse his own record in the 1,600 and also nab the meet mark in the 800, which is 1:59.76.
"He could set records in those,'' Wyant said. "I think he should, if nothing comes up. He's a great runner and he's worked really hard to get where he's at. He deserves all the accolades he's getting right now.''
Wyant hopes Rich, who's being heavily recruited by the University of Kentucky, has a lot of gas remaining Saturday to compete in his "core strength'' events, the 800 and 1,600. To do that, Rich will have to avoid burning himself out in the 4x800 and 3,200 today.
"Usually,'' Wyant said, "if it's close in the 4x8, if he's within 30 yards, he'll catch whoever's out there. But I've told our other guys to not let that happen so Dylan doesn't have to kill himself. Hopefully the other three runners will do their job, so he can really exert some energy in the 3,200 late that night.''
Junior Isaiah Robinson makes Buffalo a threat to score in the 400 and 800. The Bison's sprint relay teams also received an infusion of talent this week as the school's baseball team finished its season, allowing speedy Laythen Good and Garison Erwin to join the track squad.
Doddridge's powerhouse team, seeking its third straight state crown, banks on athletes such as distance runner Caleb Moore, high jumper-hurdler Dillon Muhly-Alexander, pole vaulter Dyllon Hayes, weight thrower Isaac Britton and hurdler Daniel Plaugher.
Charleston Catholic's boys, No. 6 in the power rankings, rely on strong relays, holding one of the top four spots in the state in the 4x200, 4x400 and 4x800.
Here's the outlook in the other divisions:
Girls Class A
Williamstown is a heavy favorite to claim its third title in a row, led by sprinter Andrea Chidester, strong relays and pole vaulter Lincoln Postlewaite, whose season-best of 11 feet matches the best in the state in any class.
D'Andra Swiger of Doddridge is a threat to win four events as she competes in the 200, 300 hurdles, long jump and high jump.