RIPLEY - The buzz going in to Wednesday's Mountain State Athletic Conference cross country championship meet was that it was a three-way race for the girls individual title.
In the end one runner, Capital sophomore Peyton Panger, proved she belonged among the best by capturing the MSAC crown with a time of 19:15.20, beating Hurricane's Tori Dent by 22 seconds and Parkersburg's Kaylee Williams by 42 seconds at the Cedar Lakes course in Ripley.
"The course is pretty flat and for me, flat courses are more difficult because I'm more of a strength runner," Panger said after the race. "There's also that element of everyone being there and watching you. The hill and the woods were a bit of a bruiser, so you've got to stay up there and just hang on."
Panger, Dent and Williams separated from the pack early in the race and stayed together for a while before Panger made her move in the wooded portion of the course.
"I'm a stronger runner in the woods and there were a lot of rolling elements," she said. "You run the downhills really fast because you don't have any pressure working against you."
Panger's previous best time this season, 19:42, came at the Patty Forgey Invitational in Rio Grande, Ohio. At that meet, the Cougars sophomore came in second to Hurricane's Dent, but the roles were reversed in Ripley. Panger said she felt good about Wednesday's race and hoped she can continue to run well at the regional and state meets in the coming weeks.
"It feels really nice, but the way I look at it is every week is different," she said. "I was feeling it this week and next week I might get sick or someone else might be feeling it. There's some people that I haven't run against yet, but I just have to keep working hard, hoping and believing in myself."
Dent's second-place finish helped propel Hurricane to the girls team title for the second year in a row.
Including Dent, the Redskins had five of the top 15 finishers, including Emily Scwendiman (7th), Joie Johnston (10th), Baylee Summers (13th) and Abby Short (14th).
Parkersburg took second place, followed by Cabell Midland, Winfield, Capital, Ripley, George Washington, St. Albans, Huntington and Princeton. Nitro and South Charleston did not participate in either the boys or girls races.