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Jefferson repeats Class AAA track crown

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Several brilliant boys track and field careers ended Saturday, but Capital pole vaulter Tristan Slater began his with a bang.

Cabell Midland distance runner Jacob Burcham showed he was untouchable in the morning, but rather human in the afternoon. Buffalo's Dylan Rich tried to squeeze every second out of his distance sweep in Class A. 

And Jefferson trucked the Class AAA trophy back to the farthest reaches of the Eastern Panhandle after a trucking of Midland and all other contenders. The Cougars' track dynasty extended to its fourth year, despite suffering a disqualification in the 4x100-meter relay race in the regionals.

"That kind of made me nervous all week," said Jefferson coach Craig Hunter. "Because the 4x1 being ranked No. 1 by a whole second gives you some leeway in case things don't go your way . . . But our kids fought hard today and fought hard yesterday, and they were up for the challenge." 

Slater upheld the honor of Kanawha County, which otherwise did not win a boys event in any class this weekend. The freshman raised his personal record by a foot, clearing 14 feet, 6 inches, and he went 2 feet higher than he did last week in the Region 3 meet. 

His new pole with a 170-pound rating came in, replacing his 160-pound model. He noticed the difference right away.

"It worked perfect. I just felt natural," Slater said. "A lot more lift, it's a lot stiffer. I needed that, and it shot me up and I made 14-6. Only 6 more inches from making the world qualifier."

Putnam County did a bit better, as Rich, who signed last week to run at Kentucky, won the 1,600 and 800. Poca dominated the discus, with Christian Buckley, brother Quentin Buckley and Jacob Hickman going 1-2-4.

Sophomore Christian Buckley, who won the shot just before that, registered a throw of 159 feet, 4 inches, just short of his personal record of 162-81/2. His shot put of 51-7 was a personal best.

Quentin, a senior, saw this day coming.

"He was destined to just pass me up when he was returning discs for me when he was in fourth grade," he said. "He was throwing back to me when I was practicing for middle school, and that was the beginning of it."

Rich held back a bit in the 1,600, finishing in 4:23.19, but he went hard for the state meet record in the 800. When he dived over the finish line and collapsed, he broke it by a solid 3 seconds, finishing in 1 minute, 56.69 seconds.

"I was talking to Dylan before the race," said teammate Isaiah Robinson, who finished second. "He said he wanted to go as hard as he could, about 1:54. This was his last race in high school ever, so he gave it all he had.''

Rich's 321/2 points gave him high-point honors.

While Rich finished his prep career in style, Burcham suffered a stunning defeat in the 800. He won the 1,600 handily enough early in Saturday's events, but in the 800 he was overtaken down the stretch by Midland teammate Brian Lawhon - and then both got blitzed by Point Pleasant's Caleb Riffle.

Riffle, the son of former Marshall runner Kelly Riffle, finished third in Class AA a year ago, and had to face Burcham when the Big Blacks were reclassified to AAA. Riffle had chased Burcham in plenty of other races, but had never caught him.

Until Saturday.

"That's crazy. I knew coming into the race that if I stuck with him at the 200-meter mark, I could outkick him," said Riffle, who finished in 1:54.98. "I executed perfectly."

"I knew going into it I was tired," Burcham said. "I was leading into the wind the whole time; that's what I was afraid of, They did good; I ran slow. This is frustrating because in the 4x8 [Friday] I ran 1:52." He ran Saturday's race in 1:55.46.

In other distance races, Scott's Will Shaffer finally won one in AA, outleaning Corey Shetler of Berkeley Springs at the finish. Shaffer had won the 1,600 and 3,200 last year, but lost to Fairmont Senior's Nick Trefz in the 3,200 Friday night and to Abe Merinar of Bridgeport in the 1,600 - schools that dropped from AAA in the latest reclassification.

In the sprints, it was all about Dante Price, who will take his 11 career individual and relay titles to Virginia Tech. Price captured the 400 in the morning, followed by the 100, the anchor leg of the 4x200 and the 200 to finish with a classification-high 321/2 points.

The beginning and ending events were the toughest. In the 200, Price looked like he was holding back as he beat Musselman's Josh Ferguson by just .05 seconds.

But there was a reason he heard Ferguson breathing down his neck - literally.

"I knew going into the race I was spent from that 400 earlier in the day," Price said. "I didn't warm up because I was cheering my teammates on in the 800 . . . Coming down the stretch, the last 25 [meters] or so, I started feeling something ready to form in my right hamstring.

"Once I felt that, I pumped the brakes really hard and I thought I had enough to shut it down and get in there, but he was right there on my shoulder." 

In the morning, Price used a strong kick to ward off Spring Valley's Jacob Kilgore in the 400, but he paid a price. He was observed by paramedics well after the race ended.

"This is his first year running the 400," Hunter said. "We ran him some 4x4s to try to get him ready, but he doesn't really train for the 400. And then to come back to compete in the 100, the 4x2 and the 200 all in the same day. Killed his legs, but he made it all the way through."

The Cougars won seven events to score a 121-78 win over Midland, with all other schools well behind. The highest-scoring Kanawha Valley AAA teams were George Washington with 14 points (12 from distance runner Matt Brafford) and Capital with 12 (10 from Slater).

As is often the case, points were more spread out in AA. Ritchie County won just one event, the pole vault, but easily took the team title, 67-50 over Roane County. Fairmont Senior and Weir were tied for third with 46, Bridgeport fifth with 42 and Poca sixth with 37. The Dots scored 32 in throwing events, led by Christian Buckley's discus-shot sweep.

Roane had victories from Troy Fisher in the 400, and the 4x400 relay squad of Kyle Raines, J.C. Nichols, Fisher and Steven McGinnis. Grafton had the high-point winner in Nathan Bernarde, who swept the 110 and 300 hurdles and finished second in the 200 for 28 points.

Buffalo's 64 points were good for third place in Class A, behind Williamstown's 73 and the 121 of runaway winner Doddridge County. The Bulldogs won four events and had 18 participants or relay teams score points.

Three boys meet records came in Class A, adding to the Midland's toppling of the 4x800 relay mark Friday night. Rich accounted for one in the 800, Nathan Tolley of Clay-Battelle ran the 400 in 49.57 and Anthony Aviles had the weekend's best high jump in any class, going 6-9. That downed his 2012 record by 3 inches, and was the third year in a row he set the record.

Saturday's state meet marked the 99th overall, and the SSAC plans to celebrate both the 100th meet and 100th anniversary of the event next year (there was no state meet in 1917 because of World War I). Media reports pegging this year's meet as the 96th proved incorrect, since the SSAC website still lists 1918 as the first running.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsmock@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.

 


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