With spring high school sports canceled because of COVID-19, The Winchester Star is publishing a series of stories highlighting each spring sport. One senior from each team is being interviewed to provide their perspective. Today’s sport is girls’ track & field.
Seniors: Mia Johnson, sprints; Kenzie Konyar, distance; Stephanie Smith, throws; Emma Bowman, sprints/middle distance; Emma Stover, distance; Cleo Yeatras, distance.
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Konyar has competed at the state meet in both cross country and track & field in every year of her high school career, so she was looking forward to adding one more state memory before she goes off to compete in those sports at NCAA Division I George Washington.
It wasn’t just the competition aspect that Konyar was anticipating, but also the time spent with teammates. A year ago James Wood and Konyar got to travel to Liberty University for the Class 4 state meet for the first time instead of Harrisonburg High School, and Konyar didn’t mind the extra 95 miles each way one bit.
“I think going to Liberty made it a lot more fun,” Konyar said. “You have a bigger stadium and it’s a much bigger setting, especially for us. We’re used to racing at Harrisonburg, which is a little bit more underwhelming, so it was definitely cool last year.
“We had a really big group that went to states last year for the first time, so it was really fun to have so many teammates there.”
Konyar — who competed in the 1,600 meters and 3,200 individually last year — figured to have plenty of company again this year. Konyar also competed in the 4x800 relay at last year’s state meet, and Lauren Beatty and Riley Rose were both back from that team. Konyar figured freshman cross country standout Quetzali Angel-Perez would have joined the relay this year.
Konyar was excited about the Colonels’ schedule. She said head coach Mike Onda was talking about having some of the seniors go to the prestigious Dogwood Classic at the University of Virginia. Last year’s Dogwood Classic featured 162 schools.
Konyar said it would have meant a lot to have one more season with the Colonels’ senior class.
“I love the senior class because we’re all so close and supportive of each other,” Konyar said. “I was really looking forward to being able to compete with them one last time and celebrate the last four years.”
Konyar — who will major in biology at GW — said she won’t forget those four years.
“It’s been so much fun,” Konyar said. “[Running has] been the highlight of all of high school for me. I’m really sad I missed out on my final season, but I’m thankful for the opportunity [to run the previous years], the amazing coaches, and all the memories.”
Seniors: Liz Wallace, hurdles; Sara Wenzel, relays; Kateri Thorne, distance; Alexandra Pledgie, distance.
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Thorne does her best work on the cross country trails. In the fall, she earned Class 2 all-state honors by taking 15th — the final all-state spot — after moving up from 26th place after the first mile. Thorne recorded a career-best time 20 minutes and 46.70 seconds over the 3.1-mile course, improving her top time from her junior year by 1:12. She had never cracked 23 minutes her first two years of high school.
Thorne says she’s “never been very strong at track,” but was hoping the success she had in cross country this year was an indicator that she was going to have a good senior track season. Her best times her junior year — when she also competed in field events — were 6:45 in the 1,600 and 14:30 in the 3,200.
“I was hoping to make it to states,” said Thorne, who did not compete in the Region 2B meet last year. “And I was really excited about our 4x800 team. Our long distance runners have really grown together.”
Thorne doesn’t have a track performance memory that compares to one she’s had in her cross country career. (She was in the Eagles’ top seven when they won the Class 2 state team cross country championship in 2018.)
But she says she’ll take a lot of fond track experiences with her after she moves to Idaho in the coming months, where she’ll attend community college once her family decides on a location.
“The senior class, everyone’s so different, but they’re inclusive,” Thorne said. “We just fit well together, and it’s an awesome dynamic. Being with the entire team on the bus rides is always really fun, hyping each other up and looking forward to the meet. It’s an awesome group of kids to be with.
“I think our coaches are awesome, especially Coach [Jeff] Webster for the distance team. He knows how to build on each of our individual strengths. He’s just the best coach ever.”
Seniors: Tori Stanford, distance; Jensyn Worrell, middle distance.
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Stanford definitely did not get to have the senior year that she anticipated.
She joined the cross country team for the first time this fall and started off as the team’s No. 1 runner, but a stress fracture in her foot sidelined her shortly after the Judges Classic on Sept. 7.
Stanford took off the indoor season to give herself time to properly prepare for outdoor season, and she started running again in February.
Stanford said she was hoping to improve on her personal record of 6:05 in the 1,600 and getting under six minutes this year. She also wanted to see some of her fellow seniors go out with a bang, but that didn’t happen.
“We were a really strong group of seniors,” Stanford said. “Miles Ashe, Malachi Imoh ... they were trying to work hard to get a state [championship] ring this year. They were really close last year [both were second in the 4x100, Imoh was second in the 100 and 200], so we all knew it was going to be their year for them.
“It’s heartbreaking because we’re really close friends. We’re really motivated and hard-working athletes and we all wanted to push ourselves this season to reach our goals. It’s hard that something like [the season cancellation] happened, because our mindset is to always be the best we can be.”
Stanford said her favorite memory comes from winning the 1,600 in her first meet with the track team as a junior.
“I was very nervous, and that was a huge confidence boost,” Stanford said. “It just made me realize that I really enjoy this sport.”
Stanford said being around Handley coach Mike McKiernan added to her appreciation for track.
“He’s such a great coach and such a great person, that he made me want to push myself even harder,” she said.
Stanford said she’ll continue to be someone who runs as she goes to the University of Georgia next year, where she’ll study political science as part of her pre-law path.
“I’ll always cherish the memories that our team made together,” Stanford said. “This was a hard way to end, but I’m thankful for everything.”
Seniors: Sarah Purdy, hurdles/jumps; Desiree Blowe, throws; Katie Borland, distance; Ghandia Hutchinson, sprints.
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Purdy was eagerly anticipating this outdoor track season.
As a junior, her season was essentially derailed during hurdle warmups at the Class 4 Northwestern District meet at Culpeper High School. The bag that someone was carrying swung into her lane and hit Purdy’s lead leg, which caused her to fall at high speed. She suffered several bumps, bruises and scratches, including a severely sprained ankle.
Purdy was never more than 50 percent healthy for the district and Region 4C meets, and she did not qualify for the state meet. Purdy said it took almost all summer for her ankle to heal.
Purdy felt she had a lot of momentum from the indoor season after setting a personal record and earning all-state honors in the 55-meter hurdles and a PR in the 300.
“Outdoor [track] is what you mainly focus on,” Purdy said. “Indoor is more prepping and getting ready for outdoor, which is when it gets super intense.”
Purdy said she appreciated the lighter moments that were part of her track career, too, particularly on road trips.
“The environment was always super fun,” Purdy said. “My favorite things were when [Coach Kevin] Shirk would take us to states. For indoor, I’ve gone to states every year since my freshman year, and we’d always have to take a car to either Roanoke or Liberty, and those trips were fun.
“And we got to go to the Virginia Showcase this year [at Liberty University] for indoor, which is one of the most amazing track meets I’ve ever been to. There were different countries there, U.S. records were broken. Just being in the presence of those amazing athletes and getting to watch them compete was amazing.”
Purdy — who will compete for NCAA Division I Mount St. Mary’s and study environmental science and mathematics next year — said she appreciated all of her teammates at Millbrook.
“Even though they had their own events, I could always count on my team to be there,” Purdy said. “Hearing them cheering me on during the final stretch of the 300 hurdles or the 4x400 ... I relied on the energy that they give out. And I would cheer them on as well. There was a lot of support.”
Seniors: Gracie Ridings, hurdles/jumps; Hannah Sandy, throws.
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Ridings was hoping to improve on her personal records in the 100 hurdles (17.8) and triple jump (32-10.75) this year, and hopefully, qualify for the Class 4 state meet. Ridings was hoping to get around 16 seconds in the 100 hurdles and wanted to get at least 35 feet in the triple jump.
She felt her teammates, including some of her fellow seniors, could have helped push her to that. The Warriors boys have two of the best jumpers and hurdlers in Class 4 in seniors Eldon Agard and Darius Lane.
“The hurdling group, there’s a special set of people who really dedicated themselves to getting better the past indoor season and over the summer,” Ridings said. “I thought it was going to be a pretty good year for Sherando’s track team.”
Ridings said her favorite memory came when she ran the 300 hurdles in a mid-week quad meet with junior Indhya Hayes.
“Neither of us were super into it that day,” Ridings said. “We had a conversation the entire race together.”
Ridings is a standout cheerleader for Sherando who was a second team all-district selection this year and a first team pick as a junior. She plans on participating for the competition team in the fall at Virginia Tech, where she’ll study human nutrition foods and exercise.
She’s glad she’ll do that with the added experience of track, a sport she took up as a sophomore.
“I really branched out trying track,” Ridings said. “I just went out of my comfort zone and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.
“I was really looking forward to trying to go really hard this spring season. Even though it’s come to an end, the time I was able to spend with all of the track team members, I really enjoyed.”