ONA, W.Va. - After years of running in Jacob Burcham's shadow, George Washington's Matthew Brafford finally got his chance in the spotlight and he seized that opportunity in a big way on Saturday.
Brafford turned in a time of 15:39.53 to outpace Morgantown's Conner Riley by more than 25 seconds in winning the Class AAA boys cross country individual title at Cabell Midland High School.
The senior finished second to Midland's Burcham last year and had been on a tear all season, culminating in Saturday's championship performance.
"It's a relief," Brafford said. "This whole week I've been preparing, stressing out about it, and thinking about it nonstop and now to have it in the bag feels really great."
University took home the boys team prize with 64 points, besting Cabell Midland (77), Morgantown (141), Jefferson (146) and Parkersburg (158).
But in large part it was Brafford's day as he became the first person other than Burcham to win a boys title since 2009.
Brafford took a page out of Burcham's playbook, running several races outside of the state this season. And while Burcham's graduation made room for Brafford's triumph, Brafford said he is glad for the years he spent running against him.
"I am [glad he graduated] but I'm also really appreciative that he was there for three years," Brafford said. "He pushed me every single time I raced against him and it just always made me want to get better to get closer to that time."
Speaking of Burcham and cross country dynasties, a couple were extended on the girls side as University's Amelia Paladino won her second straight individual championship and the Morgantown girls picked up their third team title in a row.
Paladino clocked in at 17:55.84 and cruised by Jefferson's Abby Colbert (18:22.53) even while dealing with a virus.
"I was just trying to let it not get to me," Paladino said. "Today is a day when you run with no excuses and that's what I was really trying to think about.