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In need of some luck: Yellowjacket girls cross country has repeat in sight, hoping for good fortune with COVID-19

File Photo Williamstown’s Ella Hesson, seen competing in the 2019 Chick-Fil-A Invitational, along with Chloe Lightfritz and Natalie Sawin lead a loaded Yellowjackets squad into the 2020 season. Class A’s two-time champs need a little luck with COVID-19 to get a chance to repeat as state champions.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Head coach Larry Cassady knows his Williamstown girls’ cross country team dodged a huge COVID-19 spoiler in its season last year. He’s even more grateful his stacked Yellowjacket squad took advantage of the situation at season’s end.

Junior Ella Hesson placed second in the combined Class AA/A state tournament field. Sophomores Chloe Lightfritz and Natalie Sawin recorded their best finishes, and the group ran away with the Class A championship.

“We felt very fortunate in being able to compete for a championship because we saw the disappointment on the members of the track team’s faces after the season was cancelled in the spring,” said Cassady.

Now, the Yellowjacket runners hope the track and field athletes’ feelings of consternation don’t appear on their own faces later this year. “The plan is to repeat,” Hesson said.

They may still need a little luck to reach that goal.

The WVSSAC recently announced plans to hold the fall sports season, though rising coronavirus numbers in West Virginia point to the possibility sports seasons could be shut down before mandatory team practices starts.

But assuming groups do officially start prepping for the season, few will be more experienced from a talent standpoint. Every ‘Jackets’ runner from last year’s state championship squad returns with a fair amount of work under her belt.

“We have been training hard during the summer with getting our miles in so when the season starts we can already start with our speed,” Sawin said Friday at Williamstown’s Henderson Park.

Lightfritz shared that putting in the work is easy given the level of excitement around the team. “Every year we have new freshmen coming up who want to be a part of this run and it is more motivation for us. I wouldn’t say it is a bad form of pressure, but it is definitely there,” she said.

“I would like to try to be behind Ella, but right now my goal is to keep working through all of this and my team pushing me really helps.”

“We are just trying to push everyone to be the best they can be,” Hesson added. “We want everyone to come together when it matters most.”

Cassady feels confident that with his three leaders at the helm the team will be where it needs to be week in and week out. “Our top 3 (Hesson, Lightfritz, and Sawin) are going to do what they do. They are very reliable and consistent,” he said.

Continuing developments and new highs from senior Emilee Ellison and sophomores Brookelyn Reynolds and Brianna Winsett add to his confidence. Raising the enthusiasm higher are two of the incoming freshmen Lightfritz mentioned. Reagan Ortiz has the ability to push the team’s top five. Carly Sawin brings another worker mentality.

“We really are going to be a challenge to beat because our Nos. 5, 6, 7 runners are going to challenge to close the gap with our top girls,” Cassady said. “We just have to keep everyone motivated and remind everyone they still have to run and compete … nothing changes in the sport. Maybe our meets move around but practices are the same.”

As far as goals for the season, Natalie Sawin mentioned other than winning the state championship that the group would like to place five runners in the top 50 at the state tournament. “Our runners have really stepped up early on and I think we have a really good shot at doing that,” she said.

Williamstown’s projected start to the season comes at the 21st annual Chick-Fil-A Invitational Sept. 7 at the Mineral Wells 4H campgrounds. Hesson looks forward to sharing her final season with this group of girls. “It is a good team to have by your side for the entire year,” she said. “I am just looking forward to giving it my best this season and know I can do well as long as I keep working through this COVID thing.”

“We are hoping this year still is a good year for all of us,” said Natalie Sawin.

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