By Mike DeFabo
Times West Virginian
When runners from around Marion County take their mark today at the CVB Invitational in Bridgeport, they are hoping their first steps out of the starting blocks set them up for strong runs to the state meet.
Last season all three Marion County girls’ teams finished in the top 15, with North Marion placing fourth, Fairmont Senior taking 10th and East Fairmont finishing 12th. Here’s what the schools are expecting in 2014.
North Marion bigger, also better?
North Marion sent more than 20 runners to the meet last year, the most in school history. This season, the team has almost doubled in size, and coach Keri Bland is hopeful that so too will the Huskies’ success.
“We have a lot of incoming freshmen this year,” she said. “We're hoping for a lot of growth and depth with the number of new people coming in.”
The Huskies’ relays were the strength of the team last season, with the 4x100 and 4x200 teams both taking first place in Class AA. Junior McKenzi Fisher, sophomore Marlee Angleucci and senior Alexis Hillberry are all returning for the two events.
North Marion will have to fill the opening created when Kaitlyn Conaway graduated. She took third in the 200-meter dash in addition to helping both relay teams win state titles.
“We’re trying to see who can fill that spot,” said Bland. “We’re looking at a couple of freshmen. Madison Haught might also step up into one of those spots.”
Haught, who also made it to states in the 100 hurdles, and Hillberry, who took ninth in the 400, also teamed up to help North Marion to third place in the 4x400 last year.
However, that relay team lost two key pieces: Conaway and Emma Harrison, a distance runner who took second in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200.
To replace Harrison in distance, the Huskies will turn to a number of those fresh faces, especially freshman Taylor Trowbridge. She earned a trip to the state meet in cross country earlier this year and is hoping for a similar result this spring.
“She made it to states for cross country, so we’re hoping we can get her to state in track, too,” Bland said.
Polar Bears looking to build on success
Fairmont Senior returns three all-state performers from last year’s team. The Polar Bears are hoping to send many more to states this season.
Shania Riffle, who committed to Mount Olive earlier this year, was the runner-up in the long jump last season. Junior Natalia Parker and sophomore Emily Hershberger also bring state meet experience into this season. Parker finished fourth in the 300 hurdles, and Hershberger advanced to states in the high jump.
The three girls also teamed up with Natalie Parker, a 2013 graduate, to take sixth in the shuttle hurdle.
Fairmont Senior girls’ track coach Thomas Burns said he is again expecting a lot out of those three.
"They just need to continue to work hard in practice. Every meet we go to, they need to strive a little harder,” he said. “We’ll just go meet by meet as we go toward regionals and just try to qualify for states."
The Polar Bears will also use the success of other sports to build their track team. From the Fairmont Senior basketball team that was ranked No. 1 for most of the season, Tyaira Horton, Taylin Dobbs and Bethann White will step in to help with relays. And from the cross country team, Bethany McPherson, JoeMarie Bogard and Sinead Tobin will solidify the distance events.
Burns added that a number of newcomers will also pitch in at various events.
“I just look for the girls to improve each week,” he said. “We’re not a big team, but I tell people that by midseason we’ll be able to score about 50 points at any meet we go to.”
East under new leadership
The Bees return a handful of key pieces from last year’s team. They’ll also have a familiar face back to lead the team.
Bethany Pleyo, an East Fairmont graduate, returns to coach the Bees after a three-year stint with University High School in Morgantown.
“It's great to be back to coach along side one of my former coaches,” said Pleyo of working with boys’ coach Ken Hibbs.
She said that the team is young, but she still has high hopes.
“We’re young, but we’re strong,” Pleyo said. “The girls who ran last year as freshmen and sophomores did well. Those returners have another year under their belts. We also have several girls that are out for the first time this year. They are showing a lot of potential.”
Notable returners for the Bees include Macey Nuzum, a top-10 finisher in the 200 as a freshman, and Ashlie Merril, who qualified for states in the 100-meter dash.
The pair also teamed with graduated seniors Nina Nicoletti and Nicole Licata to take second in the 4x100 and fifth in the 4x200 at last year’s state meet.
Pleyo also expects Makenna Murphy to help the team with 300 hurdles and the long jump and relays.
The Bees are admittedly low in numbers for the distance events, but Pleyo is hopeful that freshman Hannah Pride can help to lead the group. She ran a marathon over the winter, which has enabled her to build a big aerobic base for long-distance competition.
Overall, Pleyo has high hopes for her first year.
“With our good work ethic and great attitude, I hope to see large numbers qualify for states and fare well," she said.