TIMES-NEWS STAFF WRITER
SHORT GAP, W.Va. — One of the most confounding and agonizing periods of futility in West Virginia scholastic sports history came to a merciful and glorious end Saturday at Charleston’s Laidley Field. It was then and there that the first team state championship in the 37 years of Frankfort High School girls athletics was won.
Led by the remarkable repeat performances of Bria Welker and Katie Jan, the Frankfort girls track team bounced back from the bitter disappointment of a year ago to win the Class AA state track and field championship, joining the 1988 Frankfort baseball team as the only teams in school history to win a state title.
“For decades, Frankfort girls athletics have been above average in everything,” said track coach Amanda Moreland, who was an outstanding athlete at Frankfort herself. “Unfortunately, we were not able to put it together at the right time. We’ve had really good athletes come through who have gone to college to play, but we’ve not been quite able to do it.
“Frankfort’s been so strong through the years, since the school opened ... I just hope more banners will be going in the gym from now on.”
The Falcons won it all going away this time, after falling short of last year’s title by two unexpected points to Berkeley Springs, in putting 82 points on the board to second-place Bridgeport’s 64. Welker and Jan, both seniors, completed their historic Frankfort careers by repeating their performances of a year go — with Welker winning four individual state titles and Jan winning three.
But this year, rather than coming away short, the Falcons came up big, thanks to the depth of their team. That depth wasn’t present last year but was this year, perhaps the result of Frankfort’s near miss that had Moreland wondering if her team had missed out on an opportunity of a lifetime.
“No, I did not think this time last year that we’d come back to win it this year because of just missing out,” said Moreland. “And that’s because last year, numbers-wise, it was one of the smallest turnouts we have ever had and I didn’t know what we’d get in numbers this year. So, no, I didn’t leave there thinking we’d be back to get the one that got away at all.
“As it turned out, just the opposite occurred, and we had the largest numbers turnout we’ve ever had. So it wasn’t until a month, month-and-a-half into this season that I thought we might have a shot at this.”
Frankfort received points from McKenna Miller, who finished fifth in the 200-meter dash (27.27 seconds), and Brooke Snyder, who finished fifth in the 400-meter dash (1:00.37).
Jan repeated as state champion in the distance races, taking the 800 meters in 2:19.02, the 1600 in 5:09.38 and the 3200 in 11:26.78. She was also on the 4 x 400 relay team that finished fourth in a time of 4:18.06 with Snyder, Sarah Dayton and Miller. The Falcons also finished fourth in the 4 x 100-meter relay in 52.31 seconds with the team of Madison Pfaff, Dayton, Snyder and Miller.
But it was Welker who finished first in the 100-meter dash (12.47 seconds) and the 200-meter dash (25.67 seconds), falling short of the state record she set a year ago. She also tied her state record of a year ago to win the 400-meter dash with a time of 57.13 seconds, with her fourth state title coming in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles in a time of 45.45 seconds.
Last year Welker won those titles after recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in her right knee, an injury suffered while playing basketball. This year she astonishingly repeated her four championships after tearing her left ACL in October playing soccer.
“I don’t know how to put it into words,” Moreland said. “Physically, she has been through so much, yet she’s been so far ahead of schedule in her recoveries. I’m sure being young helps, but to come back the way she did, it’s nothing short of phenomenal.
“It’s one thing to recover from a torn ACL at the level she performs at. But to turn around and tear the other ACL and do the exact things she had been doing ... To be where she was then, have it happen again and then win four more state titles again, it’s incredible.”
Welker once again worked diligently, doing extra conditioning work and following a rehab program under the guidance of assistant coach Nate Hayes. As for her performance on Saturday, Moreland said, “Bria is so competitive and determined. I knew, this being her senior year and all she’s had to go through, I knew without being 100 percent positive that she would go down there and win everything. I wasn’t surprised, put it that way.”
Nor was she surprised by Jan’s performance. But then after four years of doing the remarkable, why should anything Jan accomplishes surprise anybody? She has dominated female distance running in cross country and track, winning numerous state and region titles in both.
She will continue her running and academic career at the United States Naval Academy this summer.
“It was funny,” Moreland said. “I told Katie (on Saturday), ‘After four years, the competition is glad to see you go, I’m sure, but I wish I had you for another four years.’
“When my coaching career ends, whenever that may be, I know I will never coach another athlete like Katie Jan. She is phenomenal. She’s very driven. I can’t say enough good things about her. Her going to the Naval Academy speaks for itself. And they’re lucky to have her.
“She’s just a very ... She has fantastic leadership ability. She’s very humble and very hard working. The list can go on and on. She’s a phenomenal kid.”
Moreland says her girls may not realize it yet, but their names will live forever in Frankfort school history.
“It still hasn’t set in,” she said. “When the banner’s on the wall in the gym, I guess it’ll sink in then. Those girls who went to Charleston did a fabulous job and I owe it to them. They ran the races, they competed in the field events ... I know what it feels like as a coach, and I’m sure those girls are as ecstatic as I am.”
They were able to display some of that ecstacy Saturday night upon returning home from Charleston, as the school hosted a welcoming ceremony at Falcon Stadium.
“We received an escort through town,” Moreland said, “and there were a couple hundred people at the stadium as well as the band. They pulled the bus on the track and the girls got off the bus ... It was such a cool event. The community really pulled together. During the bus ride from Wiley Ford to Short Gap, the girls were screaming and were so ecstatic. It was fun to be part of that trip. The girls deserved it. It was very cool.”
“As a former athlete at Frankfort, looking back it’s all very surreal,” Moreland added. “The girls haven’t comprehended exactly what happened yet. There’s just no way to describe it.
“We finally did it.”
Mike Burke is sports editor of the Cumberland Times-News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org