RIPLEY, W.Va. - George Washington's Matthew Brafford stepped out of the shadows Wednesday evening while Capital's Peyton Panger continued her dominance in the spotlight.
Brafford captured his first Mountain State Athletic Conference cross country championship in the boys division while Panger won her second straight girls title at Cedar Lakes in Jackson County. The runners persevered through intermittent rain and muddy conditions on the 3.1-mile course.
Brafford, a senior who has been overshadowed the past three years by Cabell Midland phenom Jacob Burcham, turned in a clocking of 16 minutes, 12.62 seconds for his victory, nearly a minute better than runner-up R.J. Weiford of Winfield (17:12.2).
Burcham, who earned a scholarship to compete at Oklahoma of the Big 12 Conference, was a three-time Gatorade West Virginia boys cross country runner of the year and won the last two individual titles at the state meet.
"It's a great accomplishment for me just because past years Jacob Burcham has always won it,'' said Brafford, who was No. 1 in the state in the latest runwv.com Class AAA individual rankings. "To come out here for my final time and get the championship feels really good.
"It means a lot. It's been my goal. Being behind [Burcham] has helped me a lot, but now that he's off to college you have to step up to No. 1 and it makes you feel a little better just because it shows you've worked so hard to accomplish that one goal. I've worked so hard these four years.''
Panger, a junior, likewise had a comfortable win over second-place finisher senior Tori Dent of Hurricane with a 19:19 clocking to Dent's 20:00.
"This is one of my favorite courses,'' beamed a wet and muddy Panger, who finished runner-up at the MSAC meet as a freshman and is ranked second in the state individually in AAA.
"It pushed me really hard and I'm really glad that I had the strength to pull through. You just gut it out and realize you can run this. I think I'm ready to put up a fight come state meet.''