By Matt Welch
Times West Virginian
When one door closes, another one opens. And so is the case when it comes to the sports scene in Marion County.
Over the fall, winter and spring sports seasons, young talent has been on display. North Marion’s girls’ track program, which brought home two state championships along with seven other top-10 finishes and a fourth-place finish overall, embraced its youth and found success.
Freshman runner Taylor Trowbridge said that age had nothing to do with it but rather how well the team meshed.
“Our team is all really close,” she said. “With the bond we have and all of the athletic ability coming back, by the time next year comes around, we’re going to have a really strong team.”
Along with Trowbridge, freshmen Lauren Freels and Hanna Gordon, along with sophomore Marlee Angelucci, were just a handful of the underclassmen who headlined a top-five track program statewide. Those runners along with juniors like Skylah and Maddie Haught, McKenzi Fisher, Mariah Dent and Lauren Cyphers have learned a lot over the past few seasons by watching their senior leader, Alexis Hillberry.
“She always helped us. She’s a strong leader,” Trowbridge said of Hillberry, who signed to run track at West Virginia Wesleyan next season. “Even when she didn’t run the event we were running, she always had good advice. She would leave us little notes about how to be strong and be brave.”
But now as the season is over, Hillberry will be passing the baton on to the younger runners, some of whom have already been tabbed as leaders.
After seeing the success of his program this season and looking at what he has coming back next season, North Marion girls’ track coach Jeff Crane is already excited about the future.
“With the success we had this past season, it’s just made them that much hungrier,” he said.
Two of the runners who will look to continue anchoring the Huskies squad will be Trowbridge and Angelucci, who found success on multiple occasions in their individual events: Trowbridge finishing fourth in the 1600-meter run at state and Angelucci finishing sixth in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes at state.
“Taylor had an exceptional year for us. We knew that after her cross country season that she would do a really good job,” Crane noted. “And Marlee, she’s the meat of our team. Probably our fastest runner, too. Without them, we wouldn’t get the job done.”
But that’s not to say that there isn’t enough praise to go around, Crane saying that you could point to a number of girls on the team and point out their successes, such as Skylah Haught winning the pole vault at state or the 4X100 team, which won back-to-back state titles.
Having youth and success is not a bad problem to have, though, and it’s not an uncommon one in Marion County.
Both East Fairmont and Fairmont Senior’s boys’ track team also have runners who finished in the top-five in their events at state, with Fairmont Senior sophomore Ben Stewart tasting gold on the shuttle hurdle team.
The epidemic is alive and well in other sports during the various seasons throughout the school year.
North Marion’s girls’ soccer team will have a star-studded senior class in the fall. Fairmont Senior’s girls’ basketball team brings back two perennial primetime players. And East Fairmont’s baseball team will have eight rising juniors in the spring. Just to name a few.
Asked about the Bees’ baseball team, sophomore pitcher/infielder James Bolander couldn’t find the right way to describe it.
After thinking for a few minutes, this was his response: “Oh, wow. I don’t know what it is about the sophomore class, but it’s rolling.”
No matter if you look at the class of 2016, which boasts players like Bolander, or the class of 2017, which features Trowbridge, there’s varsity-level talent, making for a fun few seasons up ahead.
For the track season, Crane has looked around and already knows that by the time the 2017 season comes around, he’ll have some spectacular meets to be a part of.
“Taylor’s class is loaded,” he said. “There’s a lot of young talent all across the state. By the time she's a senior, if they all stick together, its’ going to be something really good to watch.”
But the track coach knows that there are sports other than track, as he frequents any other type of sporting event around the county, and said that if you want to see some good sports, Marion County is the place to be.
“To win anything in the state of West Virginia, you have to beat someone from Marion County or North Central West Virginia,” he said. “It’s good to see that Marion County has those athletes that can get out there and compete with anyone from the state.”
Email Matt Welch at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @MattWelch_TWV.