CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It didn't take long for the Kanawha Valley to make its presence felt Friday at the state track meet.
Try the first event.
Charleston Catholic's girls and Buffalo's boys captured victories in the Class A 4x800-meter relay, the opening event of the 96th state meet at Laidley Field.
The Irish girls won despite posting the second-best time in the state coming into the state meet and just the 11th-fastest time in last week's regional meet. The quartet of Peyton Keener, Sarah Joseck, Quincy McKown and Payton Mullen completed the course in a season-best 10 minutes, 4.68 seconds.
"In the regionals, it's so much harder on athletes than the states,'' said Irish coach Scott Welch, "so we try to substitute runners into the 4x8 - normally sort of like our fifth and sixth runners instead of the top four -so that they can qualify in other events later in the meet.
"We figured it was between us and Williamstown, but knocking off all that time from our previous best [10:28] was a little more than I anticipated. I was figuring 10:12 or 10:14 to be able to cope with Williamstown, and then three of our four girls ran their personal bests.''
A short while later, Buffalo's boys successfully defended their Class A crown in the 4x800, winning in a season-best 8:13.66, shaving nearly 22 seconds off their previous low.
"We wanted to break our state record from last year [8:09.05],'' said junior Isaiah Robinson, the group's lead runner. "But I'm just glad for the guys. We've been working hard all year, every day putting the time in - and it all pays off right here.''
Robinson handed off the baton to Jonathan Torman, then he gave it to Conner Lamb and the anchor leg was run by Dylan Rich, a state champion last year in the open 800 and 1,600.
In fact, Buffalo coach Richie Wyant asked his lead runners to stay within a reasonable distance the first three legs so Rich didn't have to wear himself out completely trying to overcome a disadvantage, allowing him to save a little gas for the 3,200 later on Friday.
"We wanted to get out to a lead as big as we could,'' Robinson said, "because we knew Charleston Catholic, Doddridge and Williamstown would all be a threat from the regional meet. We knew that from where Dylan got the baton [10 yards back] that we had it won.''
A real showdown is brewing in the Class AAA girls 100-meter high hurdles finals at about 1:05 p.m. today.
All year long, defending champion Emily Godwin of Buckhannon-Upshur, a North Carolina recruit, has kept a small lead over St. Albans sophomore Anacia Hines and beat Hines by a good margin in an early season meet at Laidley.
But over the past few weeks, a wild card has been thrown into the mix with John Marshall freshman Tori Derrow, who has run times faster than anyone.
"I haven't been running hurdles that much,'' Derrow said after running in the trials on Friday. "I haven't run them since seventh grade. But I built my way back to the place I had to be and kept training hard.''
Coming into the state meet, Derrow's best time was 14.82 seconds, Godwin's 15.08 and Hines' 15.11. In last week's regionals, it was even closer - Godwin 15.08, Derrow 15.11 and Hines 15.21.
"I'm very excited and ready to run against her,'' Hines said of meeting Godwin again. "I've been waiting all year because my first race I ran against her, I didn't do too good. But I feel very confident this time.''
In Friday's qualifier for today's finals, Hines (15.12) beat Derrow (15.20) by a small margin in one heat, and Godwin ran a time of 14.94 in the other heat.
Derrow and Hines give up a couple of years of seasoning to Godwin, but both feel confident going against the nine-time state meet event winner and a 40-point scorer last year with four firsts.
"That's my goal,'' Derrow said, "to beat Emily, a three-time state champ, and I guess everybody's favorite pick. It'd be nice just to get off with a bang and show them what I can do.''
Hines thinks the race could be too close to call.
"If [Derrow] does her best,'' Hines said, "and I do my best and Emily does her best, I think it'll be real interesting in how it turns out.''
When you think of defending Class AAA champion Buckhannon-Upshur, you think of Godwin and, in a previous era, Chelsea Carrier.
But the Bucs have shown depth in their squad, especially in one of Godwin's specialties, the hurdles. They showed that for the fourth year in a row in the shuttle hurdle relays, the last three without Godwin.