OVAC meet deserves high marks

Most, who know me around the track and field circles, know quite well that I’ve been on board with the OVAC’s new system for crowning track champions since its inception.

Basically, I want to see the best of the best go at it for 18 events at one location, which is what we have.

I’ve fielded some emails and calls because of my stance. I understand their points about training, life being tough on the West Virginia schools, distance runners, etc., but what you saw on Saturday was the ideal system.

First and foremost, the weather was gorgeous all week for the first time since this format has been utilized.

Secondly, St. Clairsville did a simply outstanding job as the host. There’s no other way to put it. In just its second year of hosting track meets, this week’s OVAC ran like a well-oiled machine all five days it was there. It seemed as if St. C. had been hosting track meets for 30 years.

Athletic Director Kelly Rine, head coach Ben Frye and numerous others were diligent all week in making sure the meet went well. It should be no brainer that the meet has found a permanent home in the Belmont County Seat.

Thirdly, the team races were basically all nip-and-tuck as teams waited for others to slip up to surge to the front. Under this system, coaching is required. It’s not a matter of having the premier athlete and winning. Because the premier 3A athlete might not be the premier athlete in other classes, so you have to have some depth and elite personnel.

The OVAC Track and Field committee reconvenes on Sunday, May 20. It should be a much more relaxed meeting than it was last year after the numerous snafus at Meadowbrook.



The Martins Ferry track program is a perfect example of what kind of upperhand running during the indoor season can provide high school athletes.

Coach Rich Materkoski and his staff have done a tremendous job of making track a big-time sport and not just something fun to do that’s later deemed a social event. The Riders began working to what they achieved Saturday and what they hope to achieve down the road in the Ohio postseason before Christmas.

Many schools in the area have added indoor track, which isn’t formally recognized by the OHSAA, but schools must declare it to be able to compete under their school name. However, few – if any – have put the work into it that the Riders’ program has.

Basically, every Ferry athlete who doesn’t play hoops, wrestle or swim, that runs track in the spring is out for indoor track. The Ferrians don’t just go to a handful of meets. They took part in numerous meets last season, including the indoor state meet.

While obviously, anytime you compete, you want to win, Ferry never lost sight of its long-range goals. Those came to fruition Saturday when the Lady Riders claimed the school’s first overall OVAC title and seventh conference crown in school history.

And, oh by the way, if you look up and down the Ferry girls’ roster, you won’t see too many names with the grade level 12 listed. This could be the first of quite a string for the Lady Riders, but keep in mind, they do bump up to a strong Class 4A next season.

Those schools in 4A had better be prepared to up their regimine next season because it’s tough to out-work the Ferry program.


The St. Clairsville boys’ track team is quite versatile. The run of athletes the Red Devils have had of late has been impressive especially in distance events.

The name Thornburg has become household around St. C. running circles. Alex Thornburg enjoyed a brilliant four-year career and now runs at Loyola of Chicago. Andy Thornburg – a past all-Ohioan in cross country – is winding down a brilliant career and did so with two OVAC gold medals Saturday and has high hopes for the postseason.

I think it’s safe to say that the Red Devils have found their primary replacement for Thornburg for next season.

Junior Drake Walker is enjoying a fine campaign, but he sometimes gets overshadowed by Andy’s exploits. Walker had as strong an OVAC meet as you’ll find. He finished second in the 1600 meter run and a short while later came back to run a personal best time of 2:00.18, which is also the top time in the confernece this season.


There were several times and efforts that were outstanding. However, in my eyes, one jumped out.

Linsly senior Chris Stephens deserved some kind of special award for the gutsy performances that kid put forth. The Alderson-Broaddus football recruit flashed the speed and power that’s made him the area’s top 200 and 400 meter sprinter.

After finishing second in a grueling 400 meter dash with a time of 49.76, Stephens came back about 30 minutes later and busted out a 21.90 to win the 200 meter dash.

Obviously, he’s fast. But, from my standpoint, you can’t measure that kid’s will, heart and determination with a stopwatch. It looked as if he had the mentality that he wouldn’t be denied and not all kids have that train of thought.


I was highly impressed with how the River coaching staff utilized its standout junior Cassidy McCullough during the OVAC meet. Knowing it would be in a tough battle with Steubenville Central, River elected to put McCullough in four open events to maximize her point potential.

She didn’t disappoint even though the Lady Pilots came up 2.5 points short. McCullough led all scorers in the meet. She scored 35 of River’s points by winning the 300 low hurdles, finishing second in the 100 and 200 meter dash and earning a bronze in the high hurdles.

It’s going to be interesting to see what River does with McCullough in the postseason. Obviously, she’s going to run the 300 hurdles and will probably be one of the favorites for an extremely high place in Columbus. Her other three events will be interesting because of the rest involved between races.

What we know for sure is, regardless of the event, McCullough is going to come through.


As good as Saturday’s meet was, it could have been even more entertaining for the fans when you consider who didn’t take part or who wasn’t at 100 percent.

Wheeling Park’s Errin Baynes – the USC high jumping recruit – may be shutting down for the season he told me on the field Saturday. A minor knee procedure in April has kept him on the shelf and he realizes that he’s got bigger fish to fry down the road.

Linsly’s Ricky Jordan – the 2011 OVAC 100 and 200 meter dash champion – didn’t compete in anything. He pulled his hamstring for the second time this season during the 200 final at the Shadyside Relays.

St. Clairsville’s Jaylon Brown came up lame in the qualifying round and wasn’t anywhere near 100 percent, but he did gut it out Saturday, which was big for the Red Devils.

For the Lady Red Devils, junior distance dandy Amy Castle didn’t compete during the OVAC because of a lingering back issue.


Each year, there seem to be few athletes who emerge basically from relative obscurity.

The captains of those teams for this season – even with still a month to go – have to be Buckeye Local senior sprinter Jordan Piergallini and Shadyside distance runner Tara Tollett.

Piergallini is the top 100 meter sprinter in the conference has been consistently running under 11 seconds. We expect him to make significant noise in the postseason barring something unforseen.

Tollett has been one of the better distance runners, but she’s exploded this season, running consistently near the 5:10 mark in the 1600 and flirting with going under 11 minutes in the 3200 meter run. She’s another who could make a serious push toward a high place in the postseason.


Saturday’s gorgeous weather led to 15 new boys’ records in 18 events and 10 new girls’ records and one record equaled during the OVAC Championship Meet.

We must preface, however, and point out that due to the timing malfunction at Meadowbrook in 2011, those marks weren’t considered in terms of records.

The only boys’ records that weren’t broken were the high jump, 3200 meter run and 110-meter high hurdles. The girls’ records that went unbroken were the 100, 200, high hurdles, low hurdles, long jump, pole vault and discus.

Staskey can be reached via email at sstaskey@timesleaderonline.com or on Twitter at TLSportsSeth