GW's Brafford, Capital's Panger win MSAC cross country titles
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.''
Hurricane took the girls team title, placing three runners in the top 10 to edge Putnam County rival Winfield by seven points (34-41). The Redskins and Generals were second and third, respectively, in the latest runwv.com Class AAA power rankings. Parkersburg finished third with 85 points in the girls division followed by Cabell Midland (98) and Capital 121.
Hurricane freshman Anna Gordon was third individually while Winfield's Brittney McMillon and Rachael Englund were fourth and fifth, respectively. Other top-10 finishers from the Kanawha Valley included Winfield's Barkley Castro (eighth), Hurricane's Joie Johnston (ninth) and Winfield's Alyssa Rittinger. The top 10 runners earned all-conference honors.
The Redskins seniors went out as champions, having won the conference championship every year since they were freshmen in 2010.
"It's a nice way to be able to close it out and do it again this year,'' said Hurricane coach Jason Henley. "We talked about putting three or four girls in the top 10 and we had three. We have a team capable of occupying four of those spots. I don't know if we made a statement or not, but we were strong. I think we have the ability to be stronger.''
Midland still had enough left even without Burcham to claim the boys team title by a wide margin over runner-up Hurricane (33-72) with five runners finishing in the top 10. Parkersburg took third with 77 points followed by Winfield (106) and George Washington (144).
Midland's Nick Salmons took third, followed by Parkersburg's Nic Cheuvront and Midland's Brandon Atkinson. Other top-10 placers from the Valley were Hurricane's Jake Henley and Jacob Harmon, who were seventh and eighth, respectively.
The regionals are next week with the state meet scheduled for Nov. 2 at Cabell Midland High School in Ona.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.