Apr. 9—MORGANTOWN — Morgantown sophomore Irene Riggs has been named the 2020-21 West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year for her outstanding cross-country season in the fall.
Riggs won the 3A girls' state title with a time of 17:59, 29 seconds ahead of runner-up and teammate Lea Hatcher. Riggs' finish helped propel the girls' team to another state title, too. This is the second year in a row an MHS runner has won the individual title and Player of the Year distinction.
"I was really excited, and it meant a lot because it was something I had thought about and wanted to achieve because Lea won it last year and she's someone I really look up to, " Riggs said. "I knew it was something I wanted to win in my career ; to be able to represent my school and show that Morgantown athletics are on the rise and the MHS cross-country program is very strong."
Entering the strange season, Riggs noted returning to the course gave her a sense of normalcy. That turned into a personal record, set in the season-opening 5K at University High with a time of 17:51.3. Riggs went on to finish the season undefeated.
She also had to step into a leadership role on the course as junior and 2019 state champion, Hatcher, was out with an injury predating the season-opener.
"I remember at the beginning of the season I was excited to get to race, because even though things were strange it was an aspect of normalcy to me to be able to go out and race, " Riggs said. "I remember going to my first meet at UHS and that was where I ran my best or second-to-best season time, other than the state meet, because I was like, 'If this is my last chance to race then I need to take it.' That's the motto I tried to push onto the rest of team, especially the girls, which was to just push every race, because we never know if this could be the last race we have before our season ends."
Still, despite her athletic achievements, Riggs is big on her academics, too, holding a 4.0 GPA, and is vice president of the Class of 2023. She has also volunteered as part of fundraising efforts for WVU Medicine Children's Hospital. The daughter of West Virginia men's swim and dive coach Vic Riggs, she also volunteers as a youth swim coach.
"It's exciting that in the last two years we have had two runners from Morgantown [win 3/8 the Gatorade Player of the Year, and I think that something exciting for me is that I'm part of student council, so the academics side is important to me as well, " she said. "I think it's really exciting to be able to have more of an athletic accolade—that's something that was really exciting to me when I found out that I won."
Next up for Riggs is track season, and she has goals to meet there, too. She hopes the Mohigans will get a chance to race out of state so they can face fresh competition, as well as compete at a national level.
Yet, her junior season is looming—one she hopes happens in a much more normal time—and there are goals there, too. Because of the pandemic, Riggs was unable to participate in Nike Cross Regionals, something she wants to get to in the fall.
"Hopefully things will be even more normal next cross-country season, " Riggs said laughing. "I know that we're all hoping to go down to Nike Cross Regionals and I think that in the off-season, if we really push each other and work together, we have the possibility of qualifying for Nike Cross Nationals as a team. That's something all the girls have in the back of their heads all the time, and it's something we really hope to achieve."
With the honor, Riggs is entered into the running to win the National girls' cross-country Player of the Year award, and has been awarded $1, 000 to give to a local or national youth sports organization of her choice. She can also submit a 30-second video explaining why that organization should be awarded a $10, 000 grant. Those grants will be awarded and announced throughout the year.