A quick redirect near the finish line kept the day for Cabell Midland's Gretchen Mills from ending on a downer.
Mills and George Washington's Olivia Ward were locked in a tight race Saturday morning when they ran onto Ray McCoy Track for the final 300 meters in the first Huntington Mountaintop Invitational on Huntington High's new cross country course.
Mills found an extra gear and pulled ahead of Ward as they hit the homestretch. Mills, though, was a bit left of the cones marking the finish line. A quick assist from a meet assistant got Mills in the right spot and she sprinted across the line to win the 5K with a time of 21:18. Ward took second in 21:26.
"I was zoned out," Mills said after consuming and splashing herself with water to cool down a bit on the hot, sunny day. "I didn't know what I was doing. That wouldn't have been good."
Cabell Midland's girls, ranked No. 3 in the Runwv.com preseason Top 10 in Class AAA, won with 48 points. Parkersburg was second with 54 and Hurricane third with 115. Mills, No, 20 in the individual rankings, was one of three Knights to place in the Top 10. Anya Miller was sixth and Jessica Salmons seventh.
"We've got a nice team," Mills said of a sophomore-dominated lineup. "As long as we work, we should be OK, should have a good season."Cabell Midland won the boys race with 29 points. Parkersburg was second with 45. George Washington's Jacob Biruakis ran 17:43 to win the individual title.
Medical personnel next to the finish line stayed busy, mostly helping runners cool down. There was a water station on the course and water available at the finish line. Huntington High officials opened the air-conditioned weight room for runners who needed added attention. The final two races, JV for high school boys and girls, were scratched because of the heat index.
"The heat was hard to overcome," Highlanders coach Justin Cox said. "Overall things ran smoothly for the first time. Runners were pleased with the course now that they got on it. The race was different from how it runs training wise. A lot of people said they'll be back."
Runners in Region IV will compete Oct. 20 on the Huntington High course in the Class AAA regional.
Saturday's race was the first big event for the 2016 season. The next is Saturday, Sept. 3, the St. Mary's Medical Center Cross Country Festival at Cabell Midland High School. Racing will be in the evening for the second straight year with the Class AAA boys varsity set to leave the start line at 10:30 p.m.
Mills said she had a strategy handle the heat.
"I tried to control my breathing, control my arms, not get tight," Mills said. "I love this course. That's my kind of course, up and down hills. It was hot so I didn't want to kill myself. I settled in on her (Ward), passed her and kept it going. It's great to win the first varsity race here."
When Biruakis came onto the track, he looked over his shoulder and saw he had a nice lead on Austin Jordan of Cabell Midland and maintained that spread to the finish line. Jordan ran 17:57. The Midland Knights had five runners in the Top 10.
"I was kind of prepared for it (heat)," Biruakis said. "The course wasn't what I expected exactly. It was hillier than I thought. For the first time on it, it was a good race. I knew what I had left."
Biruakis and his GW teammates will be at the St. Mary's Cross Country Festival next week.
Chris Parsons, who coaches the Knights boys and girls teams, called it a good day. Cabell Midland's boys are the defending Class AAA champion and No. 1 in the presason poll. On the girls side, Morgantown is No. 1 in the poll, University second and Cabell Midland third.
"Gretchen looked tough," Parsons said. "She forgot to look at the cones. She was concentrating on finishing. We're young (girls team), but we looked solid. We've still got to work on our splits. Too wide. The boys ran well. Everybody handled the heat the best they could. You know it's going to be this type of weather.
"You know University's going to be good, Morgantown's going to be good. Hurricane's going to be good. We'll see them next week. We've got work to do."
In middle school, Hurricane swept the boys and girls races. Winfield's Noah Castro led the boys across the line, winning the 3K in 10:30. Charleston Catholic's Aubrie Custer clocked at 12:51 to win girls.
Source: The Herald Dispatch
Image: Larry Butcher, The Herald Dispatch