CHARLESTON - Oak Glen's Niko Mills and the Weir girls 4x800 relay team took home gold medals Friday in the West Virginia Class AA State Track and Field Championships at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field.
The Lady Red Riders are also in the hunt for a team title. They sit in first place with 26 points, seven more than second place Tyler Consolidated. Keyser is third with 16 points and Berkeley Springs and Philip Barbour total 13 points.
Oak Hill, the favorite, is without a point. Weir High was clocked in at 10:06.83 to beat Keyser by four seconds.
Freshman Ashley Virtue was the lead runner and narrowly missed a collision down the back stretch less than 200 meters into the race.
"I just had to be careful after that happened," said Virtue, who later finished fourth in the 3200 in 12:06.26. "That was scary."
Virtue handed off to sophomore Kelsey Ferguson.
"I knew I had to get out and run fast and that's what I did," said Ferguson, a four-time gold medalist in swimming. "I try to look at the girls in front of me and know that I have to catch up with her. That's all I really think about. I think we had a little bit of nerves coming in as the team to beat and that everyone was watching us. But, I think we obviously handled it pretty well."
Ferguson handed the baton to freshman Rachel Marker.
"I was pretty nervous out there," said Marker. "I just wanted to run well."
Marker took the baton in second place, but Grafton's Abby Taylor passed her.
"I knew I needed to get her," said Marker.
She handed off to Tricia Marker, who, as a junior, is becoming a pretty good closer.
Marker accepted the baton about 10 meters behind Keyser's Hannah Biser.
"Our coaches have been telling us to work our finish and we all did it," said Marker, who later placed third in the 3200 in 11:57.16. "We have a new coach this year (Angela Glyptis) and this is her first time down here and we won her a medal."
She replaced Paul Stevens as the head coach, although he is still on the staff.
"We knew we had the best time and we knew it was up to us, but we also knew not to think we were going to automatically win it," said Marker. "We all knew we had to work hard to win this."
Mills has had a long winter, more than most who shoveled snow for days on end. Mills dislocated his shoulder on the second play in a September football game against Buckeye Local. He re-injured it in the game against Weir High and was shut down for the rest of the season. That gave him a long time until track season.
"We made the playoffs (in football) and I couldn't even play in that game," he said. "It was really tough. There were so many Friday nights when I was wishing I was on the field."
But, all that is in the rearview mirror as Mills captured the West Virginia Class AA title in the shot put Friday at the University of Charleston's Laidley Field. His first attempt sailed 47-10 1/4 and that held up as competitor after competitor could not match his best of the afternoon.
"It was tense the whole time," he said. "I knew I could do it, though. It was awesome. I knew it (the mark) was good for my standards, but I thought someone else would beat that.
"Coming into states and doing this just blows my mind. I've worked really hard for this. I'm grateful for everything. I'm shocked."
Mills later took third in the discus.
"If anybody deserves a state title, it is Niko," said Oak Glen boys track coach Phil Rujak. "He has worked really hard toward this. He's a great kid and he's someone who can share this moment with everyone. I am really proud of what he has accomplished."
Ritchie County junior Mark Britton came into the competition as the odds-on-favorite with his marks over 50-feet.
But, it wasn't to be on this day.
"He's a great athlete. He's amazing in the shot put and discus and hopefully he can come back here next year and do well," said Mills.
Mills, in fact, credits Britton for a recent move - changing from the glide to the spin in the event.
"I switched right before the OVACs," said Mills. "I've seen how much Mark has improved from his freshman year until now. He was throwing in the low 40s and now he's in the 50s. I figured that if it could work for him, it could work for me."
Mills already knew the spin technique from the discus, but worked over and over again on his technique for the past two weeks in the shot put. He figured he spun about 50 times a day in practice working on his new shot put technique.
"This has been a great season and hopefully I can continue it in college," said Mills, who is looking at two colleges to continue his track career, where he will also pick up the hammer throw.
Oak Glen sits in fourth place with 18 points, all coming from Mills and sophomore Ethan Deletka, who placed fifth in the discus at 134-6.
* Weir High's Kayla Kolanko, Kaitlyn Boyd, Monica Pennacchio and Nicole Holland took fourth in the shuttles in 1:10.37. Holland will race today in the 100 hurdles final. Madonna's Jimmy Deter qualified for today's Class A finals in the 100 and 200, as did the Red Riders' Shawn Burns in Class AA.
* The Lady Dons' Carly Sekely, Kaitlyn Conner, Victoria Licata and Maddie Lammers, all underclassmen, finished fourth in the shuttles in 1:10.30.
* Madonna freshman Taylor Pavan placed second in the Class A discus and Brooke's Ali Crawford qualified in the 200 and the 100 hurdles.
(Mathison can be contacted at email@example.com)