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Belpre Invitational set for Saturday

Fullerton, Rodgers look to continue streak

Photo by Jordan Holland Belpre’s Blake Rodgers runs during the Jeremy Anderson Invitational last Saturday at Fort Frye High School. He place second overall.

BELPRE — The Belpre Invitational is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at Civitan Park, and will look a little different this year.

Due to COVID-19, the middle school race was moved to Thursday, and the high school boys and girls races will be divided into two sessions each. The first boys session is set for 10 a.m., while the first girls session is at 10:30. After a 30-minute break, the second boys heat will be at 11:30 and the second girls heat will go at noon.

Belpre head coach Jen Wells said she’s expecting around 18 schools Saturday.

“I’m really pleased,” Wells said. “Especially with the conditions we’re under right now. Our West Virginia schools aren’t able to participate this year. We picked up some teams this year from the TVC, and we are fortunate to get to host the TVC meet in October. I think some TVC schools wanted to get a preview of the course.”

Last year’s Belpre Invitational champion, Belpre’s Eli Fullerton, returns to run his home race one last time. He’s coming off a victory at Fort Frye’s Jeremy Anderson Invitational last week. Fullerton ran a 15:28 to shatter the course and school record and is hoping that momentum carries into this weekend.

Photo by Jordan Holland Warren’s Grace Randall, right, and Marietta’s Ava Gebczyk, run during the Jeremy Anderson Invitational last Saturday at Fort Frye High School. Randall placed third overall while Gebczyk was fourth.

“Supposed to be perfect weather for Saturday,” Fullerton said. “Hopefully going to go fast.”

Fullerton has won all three of his races this season, and right behind him each time has been freshman teammate Blake Rodgers. Rodgers clocked in at 15:51 at Fort Frye.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Wells said. “Eli is just running tremendous times right now. For Blake to come in as a freshman and be right on his tail is pretty exciting as well.”

The Belpre boys are dealing with injuries to Nick Diaz and Andrew Miranda, and Wells is unsure if those two will be available Saturday. If not, the Golden Eagles’ lineup will look something like Fullerton, Rodgers, Davis Leach, Evan Wells, Cy Varner and Kayden Wright.

The other schools competing Saturday will be Alexander, Athens, Caldwell, Eastern, Federal Hocking, Fort Frye, Gallia Academy, Fisher Catholic, Marietta, River, Shenandoah, South Gallia, Steubenville Central Catholic, Trimble, Warren, Waterford and Wellston.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the TVC schools,” coach Wells said. “We have all the local teams coming. Warren boys are always good competition. Fisher Catholic out of Lancaster, we’ve kind of traded spots with them. We beat them the first time, then they beat us last week (at Fort Frye). As far as the girls, Eastern and Caldwell always have good teams.”

Belpre’s girls team will be anchored by Maddie Sprigg and Kelly Erb.

In the girls race, look for Marietta to contend for first. The Jon Tynan-coached Tigers won at Fort Frye last week. Ciara Space (2nd) and Ava Gebczyk (4th) both finished in the top five while Lynncoln Tynan (13th), Hannah Lovejoy (14th), and Mahlen Becker (43rd) also scored.

On the boys side, Warren and Fisher Catholic finished 1-2 in the boys standings at Fort Frye, so Saturday will be somewhat of a rematch.

The Warren boys have won their first four meets of the 2020 season. The Warriors lineup includes Brennan Perdue, Matthew Rauch, Bryson Angelo, Andrew Vincent, Justin Pate, Cole Coleman and Aiden Westerman.

“Moving forward, if we just keep making small changes and better progressions as we move forward, the sky’s the limit for our kids,” said Warren head coach Ryan Werry.

Considering the competition, Wells said she would like to see the Belpre boys finish top three as a team.

“And I’d love to see Eli and Blake continue their 1-2 finishes,” she added. “Warren’s pretty darn tough. I don’t know what Athens is going to give us, but they’ve always been one of the strongest in the TVC.”

Wells said the race wouldn’t be possible without the endless support it has received.

“We’ve had a lot of support from the community, particularly the Belpre Rotary Club and Larry Arnold. Joe Cora with the River City Runners has been a huge help in our planning and everything we are doing. I’d like to thank the Belpre Soccer Club for allowing us to use their fields, and the Belpre administration for their support.

“We are dedicating the race to one of our parents currently deployed in the Middle East. Chief Warrant Officer 3 Chris Sprigg is part of the Army National Guard. Two of his daughters run on our team.

“And I have to mention Rod O’Donnell. He has been an integral part of the meet. He’s celebrating his 50th year of coaching track and cross country.”

Jordan Holland can be reached at jholland@mariettatimes.com.

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