SHORT GAP - On Saturday, we took a look back to Keyser's 2016 and 2009 boys' track state championships. Those state championships are not Mineral County's only track and field state championships. In fact, at the opposite end of Mineral County, sandwiched right between them, and this time for the girls and not the boys, is the Frankfort girls' 2013 state championship winning team.
By Chapin Jewell
SHORT GAP - On Saturday, we took a look back to Keyser’s 2016 and 2009 boys’ track state championships. Those state championships are not Mineral County’s only track and field state championships. In fact, at the opposite end of Mineral County, sandwiched right between them, and this time for the girls and not the boys, is the Frankfort girls’ 2013 state championship winning team.
Like those Keyser state championships, the scene was historic Laidley Field in Charleston. A place in which the Lady Falcons had quite literally experienced the agony of defeat in 2012, but more about that later. On Saturday, May 18, 2013, things would finally be different for Frankfort as the agony of defeat would give way to the thrill of victory, specifically to the biggest victory of all.
This 2013 girls’ track and field state championship would really represent the culmination of two athletic journeys for Frankfort. First, after what had been an overall successful 38 seasons of competition for the Lady Falcons in all sports, Frankfort had finally secured a girls’ state championship. Second, superstars Bria Welker and Katie Jan, after unrivaled high school careers at the Short Gap school before and since, were finally crowned the best of the best in the Mountain State in class AA.
To that first point, then Frankfort girls’ track coach Amanda Jewell summed it up in a 2013 interview following the state championship victory, “For decades, Frankfort’s girls’ athletics have been above average in everything. Unfortunately, we were not able to put it together at the right time. We’ve had really good athletes come through who have gone on to college to play, but we’ve not been quite able to do it.”
The same could be said for boys’ sports at Frankfort as well. Despite being above average and successful at every sport, it took from 1976 to 1988 for the Falcons to earn their first team state championship, one that would come on the baseball diamond. The Lady Falcons’ 2013 track state championship banner now accompanies that boys’ baseball banner on the gymnasium wall as the only two in school history.
Even for a team with elite level talent, it often still takes lightning striking to secure state championship hardware. Even with the best of the best in terms of talent and performance, everything must still come together for a team to reach the pinnacle of success.
Make no mistake about it, for four years, with Bria Welker and Katie Jan comprising Frankfort’s core talent, the Falcons’ possessed the tools needed. Still, it just hadn’t been enough to get the job done, as evidenced by Frankfort’s missing out on the state championship in 2010 by 11 points to Oak Hill and in 2012 by only two points, two points earned in literally the final event of the meet for Berkeley Springs.
In 2010, as freshmen, both Welker and Jan showed brilliance in their performances, serving notice that the two would be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. Welker accounted for 38 points and Jan 13 points as the Falcons accumulated 51 points to earn second place, 11 points behind state champion Oak Hill with 62 points.
As a freshman at the state track meet, Welker finished in first place in three events (200-meter dash, 400-meter dash, long jump) and in second place in one event (100-meter dash). Also a freshman at the state track meet, Jan earned one second place finish (800-meter run), one fourth place finish (1600-meter run) and one sixth place finish (400-meter dash).
“With Bria, we knew we had something special with her coming in. She had competed in the Hershey National Track Meet in Middle School, so we knew we had something special with her,” Jewell stated. “I can remember watching at one of the first days of practice with Bill Cessna, my assistant coach at the time. We were watching her coming out of the blocks. He looked at me and said ‘the less we tell her, the better off she is.’ She was a just a natural, she just had it.”
According to Jewell, “I was the cross country coach at the time too, so I had already had Katie in the fall. I knew she would be successful in track, between her dedication to running, the drive that she had, plus her natural athletic ability. I knew that she was going to be something too.”
As juniors in 2012, Welker and Jan again showed dominance at the state track meet, much more so even than their impressive performances in their inaugural state meet as freshmen. This time around, Welker accumulated 40 points, Jan 34 points, as the Falcons accumulated 74 points to earn second place, two points behind state champion Berkeley Springs with 76 points.
As a junior at the state track meet, Welker earned four first place finishes (long jump, 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash). Also a junior at the state track meet, Jan earned three first place finishes (800-meter run, 1600-meter run, 3200-meter run) and one fourth place finish (400-meter dash).
Welker and Jan’s combined 74-point performance was a tremendous, record-breaking event, an absolutely dominating performance. As then Mineral Daily News Tribune sports editor Michael Minnich pointed out in a May 21, 2012 article, “Welker and Jan combined for 74 points; since RunWV began compiling state meet results in 1995, no teammates have come close to 70 points,” Minnich stated. “Welker became just the eighth athlete in West Virginia state track history, male or female, regardless of classification, to win four events in one state meet.”
Unfortunately for the Falcons in 2012, Welker and Jan’s dominating, record-breaking performances were overshadowed by the fact that Berkeley Springs would unexpectedly finish first in the 4 x 400-meter relay to snatch victory away from the Falcons, giving the Indians 76 points to Frankfort’s 74, giving the Morgan County school the state title.
As Minnich described in the state meet article at the time, “Berkeley Springs’ 4 x 400-meter relay, which had finished a distance fourth at regionals and had only gotten into the state meet on a wild card as one of the best non top three performers in the regionals, surprised everyone by winning the final event of the day-and the 10 points that came with it-to leap-frog Frankfort and Keyser and capture their second straight class AA state girls’ state track title.”
According to Jewell, “When we ended up getting second that year and not first, it was absolutely heartbreaking. Especially since we didn’t have any state titles at that point, it hurt a little more than just losing that day, there was the frustration of not capturing that long anticipated girls’ state title for Frankfort.”
“It was one of those things where you think you’re going to win because you have two dominant runners. When you watched what was going on around the state, there was a feeling that nobody shout beat Frankfort that year at states. We definitely had high hopes going into Charleston in 2012, but you never know, it’s the classic example of learning to not count your chickens before they hatch,” Jewell explained.
Entering the 2013 state championship meet in Charleston, there was optimism that Welker and Jan would get it done. They had to, after all, this was their last chance. Still, as was learned in 2012, nothing was certain or left to chance. Would 2013 be the year?
“There is not a girls’ state championship banner in this gym, and what better year to do it than this one? There’s a lot of state runner-ups banners for the girls, but there’s no state championship,” Jewell stated leading up to the 2013 event.
According to Jewell in the News Tribune’s preview article in 2013, “Bria and Katie have been so close twice, especially last year. We’ve never been closer…We had no control last year, this year, we do. It gives me chills just thinking about her anchoring that 4 x 4, potentially for the state title.”
Jewell was referencing the fact that in 2013, Welker and Jan would have help as Frankfort had qualified four relay teams for the state meet. Specifically referenced was the fact that Jan would be running anchor in the all-important 4 x 400 relay, the one in which the Falcons watched helplessly in 2012 as Berkeley Spring unexpectedly rode the event to victory.
In 2013, Welker and Jan would deliver as always, this time with help from their teammates, as the Lady Falcons and Welker and Jan would finally get that monkey off their back, running their way to the 2013 class AA state championship with 82 points, a full 18 points ahead of second place Bridgeport. Oak Glen would finish in third place with 61 points, 58 points gave North Marion fourth place, and Keyser finished in fifth with 49 points.
With the win, the Falcons would have their girls’ state championship banner to hang alongside the boys’ baseball banner of 1988. With the win, Bria Welker and Katie Jan, already the recipients of a tremendous amount of individual hardware, would have their names cemented alongside their teammates as the best to have done it in class AA in 2013.
It was indeed a fitting end to the high school track careers of the most decorated track athletes in Frankfort high school history. At the state meet in 2013, Welker again went a perfect four for four, accumulating 40 points with first place finishes in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash and 300-meter hurdles. Jan finished first in three events (800-meter run, 1600-meter run, 3200-meter run) and anchored the 4 x 400 relay team that finished fourth alongside Brooke Snyder, Sarah Dayton and McKenna Miller.
Also earning points for Frankfort was the fourth place finishing 4 x 100 relay team of Madison Pfaff, Dayton, Snyder and Miller. Miller also finished in fifth place in the 200-meter dash.
“It was surreal, and not just on an individual or team level, but for the community. It was a great feeling, the whole bus ride home was just a great experience,” Jewell explained.
After satisfying Frankfort’s quest for a state championship banner for the girls, the Lady Falcons were treated to a hero’s welcome upon returning to Short Gap very late that night.
“We didn’t take a bus to Charleston. But we had a bus driver, Gary Bradshaw, that met all the parents at the bridge in Wiley Ford. This was before Facebook was really big, I think Rebonica Davis was the one that set things up. All the participants got on the bus and we rode it to Short Gap and into Falcon Stadium, right onto the track and parked it right in front of the bleachers,” Jewell stated.
According to Jewell, “The girls got off the bus, the band was there, I don’t know how many people but there was a ton of community support. It was just an incredible experience for those girls.”
Success for Welker and Jan did not end on the track at Laidley Field that day in Charleston. Welker would go on to a successful running career at West Virginia University; Jan would do the same with a successful running career at the Naval Academy.
It was the perfect pairing not only of friends but also competitors that resulted in Frankfort’s coveted state championship in 2013. Welker excelled in the sprinting events, Jan excelled more in the distance events. Together, they were point machines.
For Jewell, an accomplished Frankfort athlete in her own right, it was a moment in which things had come full circle. Jewell remembered the heartbreak of coming so close as an athlete. “When you coach, you do it because you want to see the kids succeed. It was nice to come back and see the excitement on their faces when the goal of a state championship was accomplished. They were just special girls.”