Hurricane, Catholic in the running
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Part of Jason Henley's accomplishments this fall is helping the Hurricane girls cross country team to an outside chance at a state team championship.
But Henley is being rewarded for his work with the Redskins boys, who could finish in the top 3 at today's state meet.
"His boys made a huge move midway through the season," said Cabell Midland coach Chris Parsons. "They were in our conference and our regional, and we were looking out for them."
Appropriately, Henley will be honored today as the boys state coach of the year in a ceremony during the meet, which begins at 10 a.m. at Midland's campus in Ona. The girls Class AAA race kicks off the festivities.
That could be plenty interesting, as the Redskins simultaneously try to upset favored Morgantown and fend off Putnam County rival Winfield. Last week in the Region 4 meet, the Redskins beat the Generals by a mere five points, buoyed by the 1-2 finish of Tori Dent and Anna Gordon.
The Redskins won that region despite the loss of one of their top three runners, Joie Johnston, to a stress fracture. Her teammates all had "Joie" written on their legs in a show of support.
"That's a really big thing that we could still win," Henley said. "That's a good indicator of where we want to be."
A youthful Winfield team wants to sneak ahead of the Redskins, or at least land a third-place finish. A top-10 finish from Brittany McMillion could help the Generals pick off Hurricane or University, but they also could do well by landing four in the 11-20 level.
"There's not one standout. They're almost like brothers and sisters," said Winfield coach Kelsey Spang. "All of us are going to dinner [Friday], and I didn't come up with the idea. They have that camaraderie with each other that's going to help us as a team."
Led by Jake Henley, Jacob Harmon and a host of young talent, Hurricane's boys could hit the top-three podium, punctuating a dizzying two-year rise. The Redskins qualified for the state meet for the first time last year, finishing seventh.
"They're young, they only have one senior. Next year, we're returning the whole squad," Jason Henley said. "It's to the point where they know how to win and know how to attack races. It's been a lot of fun to watch."
Midland is the defending champion, but Parsons knew University would be the 2013 favorite about a minute after the 2012 race ended. Still, the Knights have improved throughout the season and Parsons always looks for a way to pull off an upset - even without sidelined runner Alex Short.
"He was 14th last year, as a freshman," Parsons said. "He's been running for three weeks but he doesn't have enough time to get in shape to be in our top five."
Charleston Catholic has a shot in girls AA-A, but the Irish have to run down a talented Philip Barbour team and hold off Williamstown. Sophomore Payton Mullen and freshman Hannah Gacek lead a Catholic team with just one runner having performed on the Midland course.
Some injury luck may come into play.
"Philip Barbour is really good," said Catholic coach Scott Welch. "Their No. 3 runner has been hurt since mid-September. If she can run, I think they've got it; if she's not, it's a three-horse race with them, us and Williamstown. It would be the closest of the four races to be run on Saturday."
Bridgeport is expected to dominate the boys AA-A race.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.