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Williamstown cross country teams have the potential to do a lot at today’s regional tournament

‘Jackets Hesson plans to go out with a bang

Photo Provided Williamstown's Brianna Winsett competes during a race earlier this season.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Class A’s top-ranked runner, according to runwv.com, Ella Hesson says she’s been so focused on the results and the work she puts into being one of the state’s top cross country runners the past three years that she hasn’t really noticed the final two races of her prep career are finally upon her.

“It is crazy and it (my career) has gone by so fast,” she said.

Along the way, there’s been Little Kanwaha Conference championships, three regional titles and an individual state championship won.

When she takes to the Wood County 4-H campgrounds today, there is a fourth Class A Region IV title up for grabs. Hesson hopes it along with a possible state championship are hers when everything is said and done.

“I think I can get there. I set high expectations for myself all the time,” she said. “I hope I can finish strong. I am really hoping.”

Larry Cassady certainly seems to think she can get to where she wants to be. All of the intangibles are there for her “strong finish,” according to him.

“She has the spirit and the work ethic and is dedicated to her team and to the sport. She likes the results from the work she put in,” Cassady said.

Hesson says her drive comes from within.

“I am very competitive with myself. I am my biggest competitor and I like pushing myself to see how good I can do,” she said.

How good has she been heading into the regional meet? Very good.

Three runners from three Class AAA schools are the only competitors to finish in front of her in any of the Jackets’ first eight races. All of them are ranked highly as told by runwv.com. Ripley’s Ellie Hossaflook is the top runner, Hurricane’s Audrey Hall is fifth, and John Marshall’s Zara Zervos is ranked ninth. None of them will be in her way though when the gun sounds.

Of course, none of those runners will challenge her Thursday.

In fact, the closest runner that won’t be wearing a Williamstown uniform in Mineral Wells is Wood County Christian’s Lacey Dimit, who is ranked 11th in the Class A rankings.

Nevertheless, Hesson isn’t about to give herself the automatic victory. “There are a lot of girls that can be up there. You never really know what everyone is going to do,” she said.

Her times also aren’t where she wants them heading into the race. A lot of things this year have kind of gone along with that with COVID. I definitely haven’t run as fast as I can. I am going to try and push myself as fast as I can to get where I want.

“It would be nice to get that fourth title to say I competed for it and got it. It is hard to get there and we just have to make sure we get there.”

As for a game plan, Hesson says it isn’t going to form one until after the race starts. “It just depends on several different factors on the course. We will just have to see,” she said.

MORE CANNON FIRE

Zach Cannon’s Little Kanawha Conference Chamionship six-second victory over Wirt County’s AJ Petrovsky could have been something the Yellowjacket sophomore rested his hat on in this most unusual of seasons.

He knew he could have coasted on the victory, too.

However, his mind, body, heart and goals wouldn’t allow it. Conquering one of the best small school conferences in the state wasn’t enough. Much more exists for him to accomplish. “It (winning the conference championship) wasn’t even my main focus. I just wanted to get better than I was last year,” Cannon said.

Now that he has improved, his next step is largely the same as his girl’s team counterpart: Win a regional title and help the boys team advance to the state tournament.

It is a pressure he feels, but knows he has support as all the Yellowjackets work toward their goal.

“I am thankful that my team is pushing me every day. And not just the boys but the girls and the middle school teams,” Cannon said. What all of this has helped him achieve is the sixth best ranking in the Class A rankings according to runwv.com.

Unlike Hesson though, his path to the regional title isn’t so simple. Petrovsky, Wood County Christian’s Michael Cline, Ravenswood’s Cade Curfman, Sherman’s Andrea Skeens and Buffalo’s Patrick Reilly ranking in the top 20 presents him with more concrete challengers.

Yet like Hesson, Cannon has his head coach’s full confidence.

“He stands a good chance. One of the things we try to instill in these kids is to be humble and be appreciative of the team that helps you get where you are and does the work outs with you and he respects that,” Cassidy said.

“I know what I am capable of. Now I just have to pull it off,” Cannon said.

GIRLS FAVORED TO WIN THE WHOLE THING

While Hesson and Cannon have challenges ahead of them, the girls’ string of regional titles appears all but certain to continue. No one has a team close to the Yellowjackets according to runwv.com and Cassady.

“Huntington St. Joe will be there and we don’t know much about them. But we have seen everyone else and feel good,” said Cassady.

It doesn’t hurt that the ‘Jackets have five of the top 20 runners in the classification on their squad. Hesson (1st), Natalie Sawin (3rd), Chloe Lightfritz (6th), Brianna Winsett (7th) and Reagan Ortiz (14th) form a lineup no one in the classification can match. That is before you throw in Brookelyn Reynolds (21st) and Torie Combs (31st) in the mix. Once done and the fact no one else in the region has more than two (Ravenswood) in the top 20, the picture comes into more focus.

“I feel like we are going to try and do our best no matter who we are going up against,” said Winsett. “We have trained so much this year and we just try to get to our best times all the time and run races like they are our last races.

“I am going to try and stick with Natalie and Chloe like I have been this season and stay consistent.”

For Ortiz, it will be her first regional event, but like Winsett she has a plan. “I have trusted the coaches and what they told us to do with our summer miles. I had the girls up front pushing me to do better and I stay with the pack. I knew as long as I could get through a workout I could run a race. As long as I keep doing what I am doing I will be fine,” she said.

The duo said they plan to draw strength from all their teammates to be at their best. That doesn’t just include the five other runners on the course with them, but also Emilee Ellison, Maybree Rinard, Gaby Rose, Izzy Caiden, and Carley Sawin. Those five may not be in attendance, but thanks to their willingness to train with the girls and push them, it formed a bond not easily broken, Winsett said.

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