Earning a trip to a state championship event is an accomplishment that athletes cherish for a lifetime.
Standout runner and swimmer Savannah Hughes knows that feeling well.
As a freshman and a sophomore, the current Woodrow Wilson junior qualified each year for the state cross country meet, the state swim meet in Morgantown and topped off each season with a trip to the state track meet in May.
After making the state cross country meet this year and pulling off her best performance to date at the state swim meet, Hughes was again in line for the rare three-peat, only to see her journey put on hold by the COVID-19 outbreak.
"It all started when I was about to go back to Morgantown for another swim meet," Hughes said. "I swim in the U.S. League and I was just about to leave for states when I got the call that it got canceled. I was an hour away from leaving and I was so prepared. I had taken a week off from running and pushed off track for the meet."
The mystery around whether spring sports will be played is only part of the frustration for the junior standout.
"When track got canceled, that also hurt a little bit," Hughes said. "I like school and it is kind of hard to deal with school at home because I don't feel I am learning quite as much as I could be."
Hughes started swimming in fifth grade, before picking up cross country, track and basketball when she went to middle school. However, four sports were too much in middle school and Hughes was not about to give up the sport she loved.
"Basketball directly interfered with swimming and I had swam for a long time," Hughes explained. "My brother ran and when I went to his meets it made me want to run, too. Some of my friends were running track also. The sports balance each other out. Cross country is in the fall, swimming is in the winter and track is in the spring, so I can do all three."
Hughes made her way to the state swim meet with a strong performance at regionals. Individually, she took first place in the 500-yard freestyle and second in the 100-yard breaststroke. Those accomplishments came after she had qualified for the 200-yard medley relay with teammates Rachel Feldhake, Eden Honaker and Ashlee Mainella.
A strong finish at the regional meet gave Hughes a different outlook for states.
"I didn't think I would be in the top six (at states). I was shooting to be a finalist," Hughes said. "Then at regionals, I dropped a lot of time which got my hopes higher to finish in the top six. To make it to (A) finals was really cool because I never placed that high before. It was overwhelming."
Swimming her personal best time, Hughes finished on the medal stand for the first time in her high school career.
"That was really a highlight. I had been telling her since she was in seventh or eighth grade to not worry about what happens each year. You just have to make sure that you improve," her dad, William Hughes, explained. "I kept telling her by the time she was a senior, that she was going to be competing for a state championship. She just needed to stay with the plan and keep working hard."
The elder Hughes is the head swim coach at WVU Tech and sees similarities between his daughter and one of his accomplished swimmers, Paulo Dias Ignacio Jr. Ignacio won the 100-yard breaststroke at the NAIA National Swimming and Diving Championships earlier this year.
"It was ironic because that is exactly what happened with Paulo," William Hughes said. "They are both breaststrokers and he kept working and pushing hard and he bought into the workouts."
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