What a difference a year makes.

Last May at the West Virginia High School State Track and Field Meet Ripley’s Lady Vikings had to settle for the runner-up trophy in the Class AAA girls division. Morgantown edged out the Lady Vikings for the title, 82-80 (team points are scored in the following order: 10 for first place, eight for second, six for third, four for fourth, two for fifth and one for sixth).

This year, the tables were turned. Ripley’s 2018 version left University of Charleston Stadium/Laidley Field on Saturday evening with that championship trophy for Class AAA girls in their possession.

After 18 events over the course of two days (Friday and Saturday) the Lady Vikings had racked up 74 points, putting them atop the team scoreboard.

Morgantown, meanwhile, had to settle for second this year with 60 points. Spring Mills, a school located in the Eastern Panhandle, was third with 42.5 points.

Ripley’s team was guided in 2018 by Krystle Cunningham, who was in her first year at the helm.

“I can’t explain my excitement,” said Cunningham, who graduated from Ripley in 2007 as Krystle Bailey. “There’s been a lot of tears, hugs and excitement. It’s awesome. I’m very lucky.”

Ripley was led over the two-day affair by sophomore standout Tori Starcher. The talented distance runner finished with 32.5 points for the second straight year. This year, those 32.5 were good enough to earn her the Class AAA High Point Trophy (George Washington’s Malika Houston, who is now competing at the collegiate level for Georgetown University, won the award last year with 36 points).

Just as she did a year ago, Starcher won three individual events and anchored a winning relay. She started her great weekend with a winning time of 10:29.87 in the 3200 meters.

Shortly before noon on Saturday, Starcher not only defended her title in the 1600 meters but also set a state record with a time of 4:49.14. A few hours later in the afternoon, Starcher zoomed to a winning time of 2:08.90 in the 800 meters. She finished up the weekend in the final event (4x400) by running the anchor leg and crossing the finish line first. Her running mates on the 4x4 team, which was clocked at 4:08.63, were Grace Bumpus, Cassidy Miller and Allison Fields.

“She’s an amazing girl and an amazing runner,” Cunningham said. “She carries herself really well. The mile (1600) is the one we knew if she ran the race she was capable of she would get the record. She had a 20-second PR in the 2-mile (3200). She always has a ton of speed in the 800.”

Ripley had another individual state championship performance in the high jump as junior Olivia Miller won by clearing 5-02. Miller nearly pulled off another title by finishing second in the pole vault (9-06).

“That girl should be an inspiration to all,” Cunningham said. “She’s had two surgeries since last season. She has bounced back. I’m so proud of her.”

In addition to running on the relay, Fields, another sophomore standout, scored points in the 100 and 200 meters. Fighting a quad injury, Fields wasn’t able to defend her titles in those two events but displayed an enormous amount of gutsy determination which proved instrumental in Ripley winning the state championship. Fields was third in both the 100 (12.97) and 200 (26.38).

“She’s been dealing with that quad injury for about a month. It’s been hurting her quite a bit,” Cunningham noted. “She’s been going to our athletic trainer (Steve Lough) quite a bit. She’s been taking great care of it. It’s been extremely, extremely sore. It’s had a few knots in it. But that is an athlete who can push through anything and she did.”

Cassidy Miller, a junior, rounded out the scoring for Ripley with a fourth place finish in the 300 hurdles (47.37).

“We are so proud of her. She’s definitely following in her sister’s (Laurel Miller, a standout who graduated last year) footsteps.”

Of Bumpus, a senior, Cunningham said, “She was probably our most improved from last year. She’s a wonderful girl. I’m going to miss her next year.”

The state championship for Ripley was its first in track and field and fourth overall as a school (two in baseball and one in girls softball).

. . .

Mike Bright’s Vikings scored 11 points in the boys division to tie for 19th place with Hampshire.

Like Ripley’s girls, Hurricane’s boys won a first-ever title by finishing with 53 points. Spring Mills was second with 50 to garner the runner-up trophy. Parkersburg South was part of the close AAA battle with 48.

The highest finisher for the Vikings was senior Sam Pierson who was third in the 300 hurdles (40.33).

Evan King placed fifth in the pole vault (12-00).

Drew Swisher also scored in the pole vault (11-06) by finishing sixth. Steven Carte was sixth in the 200 meters (22.95). Also placing sixth was the 4x200 squad (1:32.74), consisting of Brian Ash, Noah Carson, Carte and Pierson.

“It was a great weekend,” said Bright. “Our kids stepped up and really showed what they were capable of. The entire coaching staff is extremely proud of all of our team. It was a great season and a great finish.”