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Capital back on track Slater leads revitalized Cougars to win

By Rick Ryan, Assistant Sports Editor

It’s been a while since Capital has been a factor at the boys state track meet, but the wait might be over this season.

The Cougars brought a state ranking and several accomplished athletes into the 49th Capital City Classic Friday evening at drizzly and damp Laidley Field.

Capital piled up a meet-high 104 points against a 24-team field, with sophomore Tristan Slater, the defending Class AAA state champion in the pole vault, capturing that event by clearing 14 feet and also taking the long jump in 19-11¼.

Senior sprinter Naquay Little helped get things off to a rousing start for Capital, winning the 100-meter dash in a season-best 11.46 seconds. Little, who earned boys high-point honors for the meet, has not lost in the 100 this season and began the weekend with the 10th-fastest time in Class AAA at 11.48.

Capital came into the meet ranked No. 7 in Class AAA by RunWV.com, the first such listing in a long time for a program that used to rule the sport in West Virginia.

When Dennie Love stepped down as boys track coach following a state championship in 2002, Capital had run up four titles and five runner-up finishes since the consolidated school opened in 1990.

From that point forward, however, it’s been pretty lean. In six of the 11 seasons since then, Capital failed to score a single point in the state meet – including a stretch of five straight seasons (2008-12).

But with talent like Little, Slater and distance runners Marshall Sharp and Michael Ruhnke, the Cougars and coach Willie Ruffin again appear on the short list of teams in the running for a high finish in the state meet.

“It’s kind of even as far as talent around the state,’’ said Ruffin, the team’s 12th-year coach, “and it’s been like that. Basically, we’ve come full turn, full circle again.

“I just hope we can finish. We’ve got a really young bunch, but if we stick with it, we might be able to do something.’’

Besides Sharp, Ruhnke and distance runner Geandra Jones, the Cougars are also state-ranked in the 4x100 and 4x800, shuttle hurdles and high jump (Lucas Roberts). Sharp owned the No. 2 statewide time of 4:30.74 in the 1,600.

Ruffin expects the team will rely on the guidance of select seniors such as Little, Sharp and Edmond Harvey, a Fairmont State football recruit.

“We’ve got a lot of senior leaders,’’ Ruffin said, “I hope they can help us be more consistent.’’

Consistency has certainly been the hallmark of Slater, who won the state title in the pole vault last year as a freshman at 14 feet, 6 inches.

He’s slowly been creeping up on the longstanding record of 17 feet, set in the 1995 state meet by Parkersburg’s Casey Freed. This season, Slater’s best of 15-6 is a full two feet ahead of the next AAA competitor around the state. He stopped at 14 feet Friday night because of tightness in his calves.

“It is in my sights,’’ Slater said of Freed’s record, “and I know I’m going to do it by the time I’m a senior.’’

He certainly figures to be in the equation. His current mark of 15-6 has already surpassed the second-best effort ever turned in at the AAA state meet, that being 15-1 1/4. State meet records are maintained separately from other marks.

Slater was asked how he motivates himself to improve, since no other vaulter around the state is presently at his level.

“That’s a hard question to answer,’’ he said, “because I know I can actually do something with this after I get out of high school. I can go to college and do this. My biggest goal is to try and go for the 2020 Olympics.’’

Besides Slater, the only other individual double winner in the boys meet was George Washington hurdler Will Walker in the 110 highs and 300 intermediates.

Winfield won two relays and finished as the boys team runner-up with 79 points.

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In the girls meet, Winfield distanced itself from the rest of the field, tallying 131 points, with Buckhannon-Upshur (72) running second.

The Generals won seven events, including four relays, while teammates Hannah Cartwright and Carly Hinkle each cleared 5 feet, 2 inches while going 1-2 in the high jump.

St. Albans’ Anacia Hines turned in an early double, leading the 100 dash in 12.71 seconds and the 100 high hurdles in 15.12. She was beaten in the 200, however, by Herbert Hoover’s Emilee Henry.

Other double winners in the girls meet were Peyton Panger of Capital (2:20.84 in the 800, 5:14.71 in the 1,600) and Mackenzie Leigh of Buckhannon-Upshur in the shot put (38-0) and discus (138-8).

Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickryan@wvgazette.com.


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