TENNERTON – With their seasons being cut in half by Upshur County being orange on the state’s COVID-19 pandemic map, the Buckhannon-Upshur Buccaneers and Lady Bucs are set to finally run again…and the stakes couldn’t be any higher.
The two squads of first-year head coach Taylor Stacy will compete today in the Region I Cross-Country Championships at Wheeling Park High School with berths in the state championships on the line.
It will be the first live competition for the teams since they last ran back on Sept. 22 at their lone home meet of the season.
Stacy said that as his two teams have prepared for the regional meet today, not having run in a competitive race in over a month has affected his squads.
“It definitely had an affect on our morale and motivation,” remarked Stacy. “No one wants to be told they can't practice in the middle of their season. Thankfully, our runners were able to still get in some miles and modified workouts on their own. Our athletes responded well to the unfortunate circumstances, so I commend them for their dedication.”
Stacy said he has tried to turn the negative into a positive the best he could with his two teams.
“We've tried to view this as a blessing in disguise,” noted Stacy. “After not racing for a couple of weeks we've been able to really hit some hard workouts. We've also had the opportunity to rest our legs a little and make sure we're tuned up nicely for regionals. I've really tried to remind everyone that our focus is on regionals and not the regular season meets. Regionals is the one that counts the most so that's what we need to keep in the front of our mind.”
Both teams have the chance to make their mark in today’s race.
On the boys’ side, Stacy stated, “I'm expecting some big performances from Jordan Gillum, Julius Hobbs, Reis Leonard and Harrison Walker. They've consistently been our top guys and they've done a great job of motivating our other guys around them.”
Gillum is the top-ranked Buc in the RunWV individual rankings as he is currently placed at No. 32.
For the Lady Bucs, eyes will be on sophomore Cadence Vincent who individually earned a trip to states last year.
“We're expecting big things from Vincent and Miah Reger on the girls’ side of things,” said Stacy. “Everyone knows that Cadence made states last year and we're hoping to send her there again this year.”
Vincent sits just outside of the top 10 RunWV individual rankings as she enters the regional meet ranked 11th.
The regional that Buckhannon-Upshur runs in is the most stacked and toughest in the state.
The regional includes Bridgeport, Brooke, John Marshall, Morgantown, Preston, University, Wheeling Park along with Buckhannon-Upshur.
According to the most recent RunWV power rankings, four teams are in the top 10 on the boys’ side (University is first, Morgantown is third, Wheeling Park is fourth and Bridgeport is seventh) while five of the eight teams on the girls’ side are ranked in the top 10 (University is first, Morgantown is fourth, Preston is sixth, Bridgeport is seventh and Wheeling Park is 10th).
“Our region only sends three full teams to states, so we're going to have to beat a few of these schools if we want a shot at sending our teams to states,” noted Stacy. “The odds may not be in our favor, but anything can happen come race day. This has been our focus all year and we're ready for the challenge.”
One of the missed opportunities for the two teams during their COVID-19 interruption was the chance to run the Wheeling Park course during the regular season. They were slated to run it on Oct. 3 in the Wheeling Park Classic.
“It was a really big deal entering today’s regionals that we weren’t able to run that course in the regular season,” remarked Stacy. “Usually we want to know what to expect when running a cross-country course. I've personally never seen the course, but I've heard it's a mostly flat and fast course. We've been doing a lot of speed work in the later parts of our season, so I know we can still handle it. We can't let things out of our control determine our success. We have to be mentally prepared to go out and give our best every day, and I know my athletes are prepared to do that.”
Despite the craziness of how the season went for the Bucs and Lady Bucs, Stacy said he is proud of how his team has responded to unusual nature of the current times.
“I'm extremely proud of the way my team has responded to all the difficulties COVID-19 has caused us this year,” concluded Stacy. “It's been an honor to coach such an amazing group of student-athletes, and I can't speak highly enough of them and the way they've handled this season. These athletes have shown great maturity all year, and Upshur County should be proud to have them representing us.”
The state championships will be held next Saturday at Cabell Midland High School.