CoEd Varsity Cross Country
By Bradley Heltzel Times West Virginian
PLEASANT VALLEY — This past spring was supposed to be the encore for East Fairmont running star Erykah Christopher as both an undeniable force on the state level and an invaluable leader within the Lady Bees. Christopher, then a junior at EFHS, vanquished the field at the state cross country meet in November to win the Class AA-A individual state title, and the upcoming track season was an opportunity to affirm her status.
“I really thought going into the spring that she was just going to light it up,” said East Fairmont cross country and track coach Ken Hibbs. “She was so much stronger in October and November last year than she had ever been; that one extra year of maturity — emotionally and physically — she was just ready to tear it up in the spring...and then COVID-19 happened.”
Christopher, now a rising senior at East Fairmont, like so many athletes across the country, had her moment stolen away and her career disrupted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic when the spring sports season was cancelled. And in the uncertain herky-jerky months since, Christopher’s as well as the Lady Bees’aspirations for the cross country season this fall have been put to the test.
“They have to have some selfdiscipline,” Hibbs said bluntly in regards to runners’ training over the last few months. “Some of them have been doing pretty good, and, as you’d expect, some of them haven’t.”
Christopher, as the leader of an East Fairmont team that projects to be quite reliant on freshmen this fall, has managed to keep up with her training, Hibbs said. She’s been able to stay healthy — a huge factor in rapid rise at the tail end of last season — and has remained committed to the grind.
“She’s been pretty good,” Hibbs said of Christopher. “She’s been working hard and she still looks fit; she didn’t just sit around and watch TV. Even when she’s out of town, she’s pretty good about her (runs and workouts).”
But running is a notoriously fickle sport, even for top runners with a devoted training regimen, diet and overall lifestyle. Quantum leaps can occur relatively out of nowhere, and plateaus can hit at any time. Even the most dedicated runners and longesttenured coaches concede there’s no tried and true formula to maintain momentum or break out of a slump. And a months-long pandemic... well, that will make things even murkier.
Hibbs has tried to counteract any natural motivational and logistical lulls in the Lady Bees’ training habits by having runners log their daily runs and encouraging those who live near one another to join up for group runs. But the inconsistent practice schedule due to COVID-19 restrictions and lack of overall team camaraderie has been taxing still.
See Bees, Page 3B
Erykah Christopher runs during a 2019 meet at University High School. Christopher is the defending Class AA-A individual state champion entering the 2020 season.
TWV FILE PHOTO
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“When we started (practice) whenever it was,” Hibbs said, “it was a mental relief for a lot kids, and emotionally it was good for them; most of them hadn’t been around very many other people.”
There’s been notable progress within the team since the Lady Bees initially reunited in early June, Hibbs said. Christopher has been ramping up to defend her individual state crown, rising junior and 2019 No. 4 runner Lainey Barnes is healthy and possibly on the verge of a mini leap, and freshmen Sophia Schnore, Marrissa Haymond and Julia Barnes have provided a needed jolt to the team’s depth and overall outlook after the Lady Bees finished 8th in Class AA-A at last year’s state meet.
“Some of the freshmen girls have exceeded expectations,” Hibbs said.
Christopher, of course, will be East Fairmont’s ace as she eyes a state title repeat, which has been accomplished just one other time in school history when phenom Holly Hunter won back-to-back Class AAA championships in ‘96 and ‘97 before adding a third in ‘99. Schnore already figures to vault into East’s No. 2 spot, according to Hibbs, helping to offset the blow beset on the Bees when rising junior Courtney Eddy — East’s 2019 No. 2 runner and 16th overall finisher at the state meet — moved away this summer. Lainey Barnes, along with fellow rising juniors Ameila Messenger and Madison Alix were the Bees’ Nos. 4, 3 and 5 runners last season, and the entire trio is back this fall; even subtle improvement from all three could push the Lady Bees into a new tier of contention in the Class AA-A ranks. Haymond, Julia Barnes and Eleanor Capuder, who hasn’t raced in two years due to injury, are all candidates to contend for the back half of the team’s qualifying spots as well.
“I’m excited and optimistic,” said Hibbs of a 2020 season still hanging in the balance.
Email Bradley Heltzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ bradheltzTWV.