‘Jacket girls eye repeat

Autumn Classic is Saturday at St. Marys

Photo by Jay W. Bennett Williamstown's Stella Flanagin (273) and Chloe Lightfritz, pictured here at last year's Broughton Invitational, will try and help the Yellowjackets defend their Autumn Classic title on Saturday in St. Marys.

ST. MARYS — Deep and talented.

Those two words only partly describe the field for Saturday’s Autumn Classic at St. Marys High School.

The 5K cross country race also will have many participants from high school to middle school competing for the first time

“It should be pretty solid,” admitted SMHS head coach Steven Nutter of the field. “Tori Starcher, the girls record holder (from 2017), she’s coming back. Ripley didn’t come last year, but they are back and the Williamstown girls are obviously highly touted. They have a great bunch of kids. There’s some real firepower in the girls race.

“Fairmont Senior’s girls are really good. The girls race will be highly competitive. Doddridge County and Ritchie County are probably the best two single-A boys teams. They’ll battle it out nicely with the double-A and triple-A squads.”

The Williamstown girls of head coach Larry Cassady, who have won the past two Class A state cross country titles, finished as the 2018 Autumn Classic victor. Class AA-A 2018 individual state champ Ella Hesson leads the way for Williamstown. Aside from Starcher, Hesson — last year’s Autumn Classic runner-up — also will be challenged by last year’s winner Zara Zervos of John Marshall.

“They are looking pretty good,” Cassady said of his squad, which also boasts Class A all-stater Natalie Sawin, who was sixth at last year’s Autumn Classic.

Not only do the ‘Jackets return two all-staters, but coach Cassady has back his next top four runners from a year ago in Emilee Ellison, Chloe Lightfritz, Stella Flanagin and Maybree Rinard.

“They are ready to run,” added Cassady, who is anxious to see what his quartet of freshmen can do. “They’ve all been doing those summer miles. The Parkersburg 2-mile (News and Sentinel Half Marathon) was a big relief for them. They got to experience a little bit of excitement for a race. That’s carrying over into this week.

“(Sophomore) Torie Combs looks like she’s going to be competitive. She was on the 4×8 state championship team. She’s had a good summer with her miles and she’s wanting to get into that top seven, of course.”

Bria Winsett, Brookelyn Reynolds, Izzy Kaiden and Gabriella Rose are Williamstown’s new crop of ninth-graders. Rose has been dealing with an early season injury while Hesson topped the field in the 2-mile race last Saturday in downtown Parkersburg.

“I’m looking for any one of them or two of them could jump up in there,” Cassady said of getting into the top seven runners. “They are like the other girls when they were freshmen. They are keeping everybody honest.

“I think if they keep the work ethic up they displayed the last couple of years they will have the same success. We are really concentrated on pack running. It could be a whole new pack this year.”

A new individual champion will be crowned in the boys race, which was easily won by Fairmont Senior a year ago.

Doddridge County junior Carter Lipscomb is a two-time runner-up in this event.

“The Fairmont Senior boys, you know they will come in ready to rock and roll,” added coach Nutter, who noted last year’s third-place finisher Spencer Corley of Tyler Consolidated is competing in Preston County this weekend.

The St. Marys girls finished as the Class A state runner-up in 2018. In last year’s Autumn Classic race, the Blue Devils were led by Erica Davis (eighth) and Jessy Higgins (14th).

“We’ve got a ton of girls back off that team and a few have battled injuries,” added Nutter, whose club also had solid campaigns a year ago from the likes of Emilie Asher, Bralynn Davis, Erica Becker, Lara Fetty and Mary Taylor.

“We’ve got nine boys and we got fifth in Class A (last year). Maybe we can do a little bit better than that. We’d have to have a pretty good season to get on the podium (at state).”

Ritchie County’s boys, who won the Class A state title and was runner-up to FSHS at last year’s Autumn Classic, was hit hard by graduation. The Rebels are led by senior Kent Bee. Also grabbing a top 20 finish in St. Marys last season was Doddridge County’s Trent Gola (19th).

Other girls who had solid efforts in 2018 at St. Marys include Ripley’s Haleigh McCune (fifth), Ritchie County’s Olivia Cress (11th), Vikings Jadyn Casto (12th) and Tori Fisher (24th) as well as Bulldog Jaklin Schoonover (15th) and Rebel Soffi Bee (22nd).

The high school girls varsity race is set for a 9 a.m. start and will be followed 40 minutes later by the gun to start the boys.

Around 10:20 a.m., a 5K Fun Run will be held as middle school actions gets underway at 11 a.m. on the 3K course.

Contact Jay Bennett at jbennett@newsandsentinel.com