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Gallia Academy's Sarah Watts maintains a lead on her way to winning the girls individual title at the Ohio Valley Conference cross country championships Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Proctorville, Ohio.

ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Even with a field reduced in size because of COVID-19, the Run By the River cross country event features one of the larger and more-talented fields of any area meet.

Races begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at Old Lock 27 near the Fairland Board of Education office. The field features 26 teams and more than 250 runners from the high school and middle school/junior high ranks. Most years, the event has attracted more than 700 boys and girls runners.

“We have had many teams we had to turn away because of the limitations,” meet organizer and Fairland coach Chuck Wentz said. “We will have close to 280 runners and many local teams competing. There are some very good teams and individual competitors that will be here but we are missing several of the powerhouse teams that usually come and compete.”

Wentz said he will miss squads such as Cabell Midland and Hurricane, each of which generally contends for the title and brings large contingents of fans.

“I hope everything gets back to normal for next year,” Wentz said. “We have had enough teams want to enter that we would have had more than 1,000 runners this year.”

The field includes Covenant, Coal Grove, East Carter, East Clinton (Ohio), Fairland, Gallia Academy, Huntington Middle, Huntington East, Ironton, Our Lady of Fatima, Portsmouth West, Raceland, Raceland-Worthington, Rock Hill, South Gallia, South Point and Symmes Valley. A few unattached runners also are expected to participate.

Wentz said the course, which served as host of the Ohio Valley Conference championships Aug. 29, is in excellent condition. It begins near the BOE office just off Ohio 7, winds through woods, downhill along the Ohio River, and back up before finishing behind the board office.

“The course is running well and we added our woods section back to the course this year,” Wentz said. “The Fairland parents and business have come together and helped get the course ready for this meet and the three others we will host this year.”

Sarah Watts of Gallia Academy enters as the girls high school favorite. Watts won the OVC title in 21:19.5. She figures to be challenged by Camryn Miller of Rock Hill and Laura Hamm of Coal Grove. Bella Stevens, Bri Reynolds, Kylie Gilmore and Ashley Howard of Rock Hill also are strong runners, as are Coal Grove’s Kylie Thomas, Fairland’s Emma Marshall, Gallia Academy’s Maddie Stewart and Symmes Valley’s Morgan Lyons.

William Harrison of Ironton covered the course in 19:00.0 to finish second in the OVC meet and figures to be a strong contender in the boys high school division. Noah Wood, Sam Simpson, Dylan Griffith and Connor Blagg of Rock Hill also expect to contend, along with Ben Mattan of Fairland, Jeffrey Sparks and Elijah Dillon of Coal Grove, Garrett Frazee of South Gallia and Tristan Crisenberry of Gallia Academy. Frazee won Rock Hill’s Run the Hill title in 19:37.18.

Brody Buchanan of Fairland is the middle school boys favorite after posting victories at Rock Hill’s Run the Hill Invitational and Gallia Academy’s Skyline Bowling Invitational. His teammates, Owen Baker, Alex Jarrell, Weston Goff and Maddox Gue, also figure to be in the mix for the top spot, along with Camden Beckett of Gallia Academy and Colin Marsteller of Huntington.

Bailey Russell and Aubrey McClellan of Fairland join Madison Carter-Clagg of Gallia Academy, Emma Ridenour of Symmes Valley and Carly Brewster of Huntington as favorites in the girls middle school division. Russell won the Skyline Bowling Invitational last week.

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