University of Charleston’s Hunter Riffle making his name known

The phrase “wasting time” doesn’t exist in the vernacular of University of Charleston distance runner Hunter Riffle.

He quickly introduced himself to the rest of the Little Kanawha Conference with his blend of talent, athleticism and speed as a freshman at Doddridge County High School.

Then, he spent the next three years making sure no one forgot R-I-F-F-L-E in a mix of sports including: wrestling, cross country, track and field, football and basketball.

Don’t ask Gilmer County boys’ hoops team about the last one as it pertains to the 2016-17 season.

I remember checking his stats every night to see the newest amazing feat achieved by the Bulldog. More nights than not there was something to share with the rest of the sports department.

There was no settling for second best for him.

He wanted to compete at the top level all the time.

Unsurprisingly, Riffle appears on the same track as a member of the Golden Eagles but just in distance running.

He was named the Mountain East Conference Freshman of the Year after an outstanding debut season, which ended in a conference title for UC.

“It was a goal I kind of set for myself,” said Riffle. “But I didn’t know if I would be able to attain it. Little by little as the season started winding down it looked like I actually may be able to win this achievement. Of course, we had another guy at the University of Charleston in Aaron Banks (sprinter and long jumper) who had a phenomenal season as well so I didn’t know who would get it. But I knew as long as either of us got it I would be happy.

“When they announced my name I was kind of in a state of disbelief at first. But it is a great honor because the MEC is getting very, very strong these last few years. Times are quicker than what they have ever been around the conference. The award is definitely an honor.”

Though the standards for the award weren’t made public, success and versatility were certainly contributing factors in the decision.

Riffle overqualified in both criteria.

The only distance events he didn’t try this season were the 800 and the 10k.

This was due to him breaking school and conference records not to mention going head to head with Division I athletes in the other events.

Two UC marks fell by the wayside with Riffle on the track. He set a new 3K indoor race mark with an 8:46 effort in a fourth-place finish at Feb. 17’s Kent State Tune Up.

Participants of March 20’s 49er Classic in Charlotte saw another mark fall.

A finishing-time of 14:49 in the 5K immortalized him once again.

Perhaps his biggest success though came in a race he had never ran until this year, which became his main event, in the 3K Steeplechase.

An event best explained by Riffle himself – “The race is seven-and-a-half laps and you jump more and more hurdles each lap, starting with three the first time, and a water jump. You have 33 hurdles throughout the race total.”

Though hurdles weren’t part of his program in high school, Riffle said he wanted to try this particular race when he got to UC. The only big difference training wise was the addition of jumps to his normal routine. Muscle memory when making the jumps is crucial to success.

“It is a different event but I really enjoy it,” said Riffle, whose time dropped dramatically as the year went on per usual with the event.

Months of hard work preparing made a big difference once the season got underway. Riffle broke the school record in the event twice, but the achievement wasn’t the apex.

While competing at Duke University against Division I athletes April 20-21, Riffle finished second in the race, the highest spot for a D-II athlete in the event.

Two weeks later, he shattered the MEC meet mark by 16 seconds in a championship-winning finish.

All of this success has him excited for the future as he heads into the offseason. He fell short of qualifying for NCAAs by nine seconds.

“It is definitely a motivator,” said Riffle of his early success. “It makes me realize what I can do now that I am finally becoming a runner and not doing all these other sports like I was doing in high school. It is definitely making me look toward the future. I fell short of qualifying for nationals, but the success makes me want to train harder.”

He already has his offseason program lined up with a few 5 and 10K’s planned if he can make it to them.

“It isn’t surprising at all,” said Riffle’s high school coach Bobby Burnside. “Hunter is a special athlete. I mean all-state in multiple sports. He is very talented.”

Sounds like R-I-F-F-L-E won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Contact Joe Albright at jalbright@newsandsentinel.com.

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