After his girls team had made shambles of the field at the Region 2 cross country meet, Grafton coach Paul Martin revealed what couldn't come as good news for the rest of high school cross country field in Class AA-A.
"I think we're a much stronger team this season than we were last," Martin said. "It's a much different makeup.
"Last year, we basically had three standouts and two other kids who gutted it out. This year we've got two standouts who are in another league, but then we've just got a pack of girls who you just don't know what's going to happen. I can tell you one thing, it's always positive and never negative."
Last season's team won the girls Class AA-A title by an incredible margin of 32 points and are back to defend their crown Saturday at the state championship in Elkins. All of Martin's runners return this season, and so far, the results have been the same.
Of course his two runners who have paced the way for the Bearcats are juniors Sherri Flohr and Heather McDaniel. However, it's been the emergence of a deep, talented group of runners who have distanced Grafton from the rest of the pack.
"I think we've gotten a lot better from last year," McDaniel said. "We still have to work hard, but I don't think there's as much pressure.
"Tia (Lafferty) has helped out a lot. She and I ran a lot over the summer, and I think she's getting better."
Gina Spino, who placed ninth in last season's state championship, is back, along with Kristen Burgoyne, Cara Bryan, Gayle Tighe and Megan Docherty, who all placed in the top 31 runners in last year's championship. Freshman Natasha Sheme has made an immediate impact for the Bearcats.
n Boys AA-A
Like Grafton in the girls Class AA-A, Doddridge County has dominated boys competition and is set to defend its state title.
Senior Denny Hayes and junior Josh Sheets are ranked as the states No. 2 and 3 runners. Last week at the Region 2 competition, the two finished first and second, respectively.
"I think it's a course we like," Hayes said referring to Davis & Elkins College. "It has a little more hills, and that's something I think we like.
"It would be a disappointment if we didn't win it again."
The championship was also held at D&E in 1997, with Doddridge County winning the title.
Last season, Hayes finished fourth in the state championship, while Sheets was ninth. The Bulldogs finished with 56 points in last year's meet in Williamstown -- 16 points ahead of runner-up Ritchie County.
This season, the Bulldogs lone loss has come to a familiar foe, Little Kanawha Conference rival Ravenswood. Hayes anticipates Doddridge County's biggest challenge to come from the Red Devils.
"We've beat them and they've beaten us," Hayes said. "They're going to be our toughest competition. It's going to be a fight.
"The key is going to be our four, fifth and sixth guys. They've got to run pretty good."
Senior Chris Mitchell finished 13th at the regionals, while Josh Dye (sr.) placed 17th and teammate Brandon Moats (fresh.) 18th. Sophomore Eric Thompson and freshman Brent Wellings help round out the Bulldogs roster.
Sports writer Mike Nutter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.