Jan. 25—MORGANTOWN — The accolades continue to come in for Morgantown High senior Irene Riggs as she continues her prolific high school cross-country career. On Wednesday it was announced that Riggs was named the Gatorade National Girls' Cross-County Player of the Year.
Riggs was surprised with the news Tuesday afternoon.
"Whenever I found out I was definitely surprised, " Riggs said Wednesday morning. "It's not what I was expecting. I was definitely really shocked and my immediate reaction was excitement and I was just really honored."
This is the 38th year Gatorade has given out its player of the year awards and Riggs, a three-time state player-of-the-year honoree, beat out all other state winners across the country for this season's national award.
"I'm just really honored to be able to represent the state this way, " Riggs said. "If you look back, especially in distance running but in all sports in general, we've really grown as a state in athletics and I think sometimes we get a little bit overshadowed. I think it's really important to try our best to represent the state well."
Riggs' list of accomplishments this season is as long as it is impressive. It began with winning the Class 3A individual state championship, which sparked the Mohigans to the overall team title. Riggs then won the Nike Southeast Regional in North Carolina, breaking the course record by 20 seconds with a time of 16:02.1, the second-fastest 5K race by a high school girl in U.S. History.
Riggs then won the Nike Cross Nationals title at Oregon's Glendoveer Golf Course with a time of 16:40.9, the second-fastest girls' 5K time at the course. She is the first student-athlete from West Virginia to win the event.
"Going to NXN was one of the neatest experiences I've had running-wise, " she said. "It was a mix of emotions that came when I went to that race—I was excited but I was also putting a little bit of pressure on myself to win that race. After I crossed the line it was a flood of relief. I had so much fun and I think those experiences are something I really value because I got to meet so many people who have the same interests that I do and the same dedication to the sport I partake in."
Most recently, Riggs won the U-20 title at the 2023 USATF Cross-Country Championships this past weekend with a time of 19:45.0 in the 6K race. The win earned her a spot on Team USA to compete in the World XC Championships in Australia next month.
"I am so excited to go to Australia, " Riggs said. "It's going to be a great experience to be able to race so many talented athletes. It's definitely going to be something I've never experienced before. I'm definitely excited and a little bit nervous."
The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes athletes not just for their excellence on the playing surface, but for their commitment in the classroom and impact in their community.
The Vice President of the student body at Morgantown High School, Riggs has served as social media coordinator for Mohigan Idol, a Mon County talent competition that fundraises for WVU Medicine Children's. Also a student council representative at Morgantown High School, she has donated her time as a youth coach for Club Mountaineer Aquatics and as part of the Strawberry 5K fundraiser supporting her high school.
Riggs maintains a 4.22 unweighted GPA in the classroom. She has signed a National Letter of Intent to run on scholarship at Stanford University this fall.
In addition to excellence on and off the field of play, Gatorade Players of the Year also pay it forward for the next generation. As part of Gatorade's Play it Forward initiative, Riggs will receive a grant to give to one of Gatorade's social impact partners—Athlete Ally, Laureus USA, Move United, Women's Sports Foundation and Up2Us Sports—supporting Gatorade's ambition to fuel the future of sport.
"The Gatorade Player of the Year award recognizes those who are on their journey to greatness both on and off the field of play, " said Michael Del Pozzo, president and general manager of Gatorade. "Irene's athleticism, paired with her outstanding contributions in the community and success in the classroom, make her a natural choice for Gatorade National Girls' Cross-Country Player of the Year."