By Steve Keenan
He moved up to a more difficult classification level but still maintained his same finish order from a year ago.
Yeah, Wes Stowers was pretty pumped with how Saturday turned out.
The Oak Hill High School senior turned in the best race of his career at the best time, placing sixth in the West Virginia Class AAA state high school cross country championships at Cabell Midland High School. Stowers, sixth in the AA-A meet in 2011, raced the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course Saturday in 16 minutes, 9.49 seconds to earn all-state honors. Right behind him and also earning a coveted spot on the all-state podium was Greenbrier East junior Levi Snedegar, who was seventh in 16:10.89.
“I got to the first mile (shortly after the crest of an uphill portion of the race) and I felt really strong,” said Stowers, who ran at or near sixth throughout the race. “I knew I couldn’t let off a lot, so I put my head down and fought through the pain, and there was a lot of it.”
Pre-race, Stowers said he figured he’d probably place eighth or ninth. “I definitely surprised myself.”
He improved his time from a Sept. 1 race on the same course by 1 minute, 7.9 seconds.
“I’ve just gotten stronger as the year went on,” he said. “I could definitely feel the difference.”
“I knew his ranking (seven) was fair,” said Oak Hill coach George Smith. “He was focused and came out and ran No. 6.
“I definitely am happy for him. I told him before the race, ‘(Looking back after today) You can tell a good story, or you can tell a tragic one.’”
Other finishers for the Red Devils were: Cody Gillespie, 32nd, 17:01.28; Nick Oxendale, 61st, 17:58.63; Tony Tredway, 69th, 18:07.57; Joel Bracken, 71st, 18:15.75; Daniel Pritt, 77th, 18:35.42; and Seth Blake, 92nd, 21:26.62.
It was a record-setting day for two competitors who further cemented their status in state distance running lore.
Cabell Midland senior Jacob Burcham, one of the nation’s best high school runners, seized control early and sped to a clocking of 14:58.04 — a new course record by 14 seconds, and 44 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger — to claim his third triple-A boys individual title. He also led his team to a commanding win, as Cabell Midland scored 37 to best University (75) and the rest of the field, which also included Oak Hill’s eighth-place finish (206).
In the girls AA-A event, St. Marys standout Maggie Drazba obliterated the field with a time of 17:17.89, which toppled the course record of 17:32.7 set by Samantha Nightingale in 2011. Drazba’s third title came after she crossed the finish line a staggering 2:05.63 ahead of runner-up Katie Jan of Frankfort.
Other individual winners were University’s Amelia Paladino (17:47.32) in girls AAA and Fairmont Senior’s Nick Trefz (15:52.2) in boys AA-A.
Besides the Cabell Midland boys, other team winners were Morgantown in girls AAA, Fairmont Senior in boys AA-A and Philip Barbour in girls AA-A.
Other local individuals faring well included: Webster County’s Brettley Harris, sixth in Class AA-A in 16:22.6; PikeView’s Jason Weitzel, 12th in AA-A in 16:43.3; Woodrow Wilson’s Emily Fedders, 13th in Class AAA in 19:30.11; and Richwood’s Breanna Mazzella, 13th in AA-A in 20:33.44.
“I thought he could run about 16:45, and he ran 16:20,” coach Steven Nutter said of Harris, a sophomore. “It was just pure guts.”
“At the first mile, I saw all those people in front of me,” recounted Harris, who competed in Region I this year after Webster was moved from its normal Region 3 home. Harris said it was “mentally exhausting,” but he persevered and made up ground as the race progressed. “I really opened it up in the next mile,” said Harris, who was 30th in the 2011 state meet. “I’m extremely happy.”
Besides Oak Hill, other Region 3 team placers included Nicholas County and PikeView (ninth and 11th, respectively, in AA-A girls); Westside, Sherman and Liberty (11th, 12th and 14th, respectively, in AA-A boys); and Greenbrier East and Shady Spring (11th and 12th, respectively, in AAA girls).
“We set a lot of personal records today,” said Greenbrier East girls coach Wes Lilly. “I really couldn’t be more excited.”
— E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org