CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha Valley runners swept the Class AAA 3,200-meter runs Friday night at the Gazette/Friends of Coal Relays, and both have come a long way - neither was a factor a year ago.
George Washington junior Matthew Brafford failed to reach the top six in last year's state meet. Hurricane senior Emily Schwendiman didn't even run the distance until this year.
"I said, 'Nope, never running it,' " Schwendiman said after her 4-second victory. "But then [assistant coach Jason Henley] put me in it. He has a plan for everything; I trust him. He said it would make me faster in the mile."
She is just faster, period. As a junior, she finished just 11th in the 1,600 and 12th in the 800 in the state meet. As she showed Friday night, she likely won't finish that low in the 1,600 or that "new" event, the 3,200.
She faced a rematch against Capital's Peyton Panger, who dusted her by 12 seconds two weeks ago in the BB&T Classic. This time, Schwendiman deserted her competition during the sixth of eight laps, with Panger falling to fourth.
"My coach kind of had a strategy just to go out with Peyton, because she likes to go out fast," Schwendiman said. "And last time, that's where she got me. I could never get her."
Brafford simply went out front and stayed there, comfortably beating future Air Force runner Ryan Graf of Jefferson. The margin may have been comfortable, but Brafford refused to finish that way, nearly needing medical attention afterward.
He finished in 9:17.98, 7-plus seconds better than his previous best and the best time for anybody in the state not named Jacob Burcham. The Cabell Midland senior, heading to Oklahoma, has taken his sub-9-minute marks to out-of-state meets, including the Eastern Relays this weekend in Louisville, Ky.
Brafford started his breakout season with a second-place finish in the state cross country meet.
"This is by far the best race I've ever had," he said. "My whole goal this season is to break 9:20. . . . This is the most important year for me to get my times down so colleges will look at me and just get my name out there."
In boys Class A, Buffalo's Dylan Rich took an easy victory in what he called his first competitive 3,200. In AA, defending state champ Will Shaffer received a rude awakening from Fairmont Senior's Nick Trefz and Bridgeport's Abe Merinar, whose schools dropped down from AAA. Shaffer clipped more than 4 seconds off his season best, yet finished third.
Most of those distance specialists and many other runners will be back in action today when the Relays resumes. Field events begin at 9 a.m., with running events firing up at 10.
St. Albans pulled off a 1-2 finish in the boys AAA discus, with senior Travis Vickers throwing 146 feet, 4 inches and Jacob Lomax tossing 133-6. That put the Red Dragons in third place with 26 points after six events, behind Point Pleasant's 33 and Jefferson's 30.
Take that with a grain of salt - Jefferson, the prohibitive favorite, lost some points with a false start in the shuttle hurdle relay.