Vikings have high hopes for state track

Ripley High School’s Olivia Miller, pictured here after picking up her medal for winning the Class AAA high jump at last year’s state meet in Charleston, will try and defend her title this week and also best last spring’s runner-up showing in the pole vault. Photo by Jay W. Bennett

PARKERSBURG — Plenty of questions will be answered on Friday and Saturday in Charleston at the annual state track and field championships.

The Ripley girls of head coach Krystle Cunningham, who are led by Tori Starcher, Allison Fields and Olivia Miller, will attempt to repeat in Class AAA, but could have an uphill battle for the top spot with Wheeling Park pegged as the team to beat.

No area big school program for the boys is expected to have a shot at the top two spots, but there are plenty of individuals who could make some noise.

Parkersburg’s 4×800 unit, which ran a season-best 8:17 earlier in the spring at Morgantown, returned Benjamin Lake and Anthony Bradford from last year’s state title effort. Joining the duo are Franklin Angelos and Keegan Barnette.

“We just went to qualify,” Big Red head coach Rod O’Donnell said of the third-place finish at regionals. “If we run and hit all four legs we’ll be up there.”

Ripley’s 4×400 team is also looking for a repeat this week, but Morgantown could have something to say about that. Fields, Cassidy Miller and Starcher are back and the new leg is Kyannah Baldwin, who replaced the graduated Grace Bumpus.

Starcher, who not only won the mile (4:38.19) but set a Penn Relays record this season, is the defending state champ in the 3200, 1600 and 800. Teammate Olivia Miller is the defending champ in the high jump, but was picked third by She also was runner-up in the pole vault in 2018, but is the favorite to secure 10 points and a top of the podium finish.

Fields, one of the top sprinters in the Mountain State not named Mikah Alleyne of Woodrow Wilson, should give the Vikings plenty of points in the 100, 200 and 400. Parkersburg South’s Samara Nunn has the Patriots’ top expected finish for head coach Tara Swiger as she’s ahead of Fields, but behind Alleyne in the 400.

“We’ve got 11 guys going in 13 events and that’s a good thing,” added coach O’Donnell, who hopes to get points in both the discus and shot from Shane Miller.

The Big Reds are also predicted to score in the 200 with Tyler Moler, the 400 with Ethan Rutherford, the 800 with Bradford and the 3200 with Lake.

Parkersburg’s best individual shot for an individual state crown, on paper, is 110 high hurdler Aaron Kupfner, who will have to contend with Woodrow Wilson’s Micah Hancock.

“We’re taking a good group down there. If we have our best meet we’ll be in good shape. It’s so close in a lot of those races,” O’Donnell stated. “They’ve done a really good job, the whole team has, this year.”

After finishing fifth at state as a junior, Ripley pole vaulter Evan King could end his career with a championship as teammate Caleb Banton is predicted to place as well.

Parkersburg South’s only predicted male finisher (fourth) is Haden McConnell in the 110 hurdles. The Patriot girls are also hoping to see Erin Williams score in the high jump and long jump. PSHS teammate Madi Gersper also advanced in the high jump and is predicted sixth.

“She was not top four at regionals so that means she didn’t automatically qualify,” explained coach Swiger. “She got in on height after all regions reported their top four.”

Gersper was the beneficiary of a new rule this year where regionals which didn’t have enough jumpers (top four) to qualify to state were filled by whomever had the next best effort across the other regionals.

In Class AA, Roane County senior Jordan Coon is going to try and challenge Kentucky-bound Winfield standout Aaron Withrow for high-point honors. Coon is the thinclad to beat in the 300 hurdles and also should contend near the top in the 100, 200 and the long jump. Raider teammate Cael McCutcheon, a freshman, has cleared 12 feet, 6 inches this year in the pole vault. The only double-A vaulter in the state with a better effort is Winfield senior Greg Moore (13 feet).