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Cougars’ Colbert wins multiple titles

By Staff | Dec 5, 2014

Jefferson’s Abby Colbert sets a lot of goals for herself, and she usually achieves them. Such as winning a state championship. Capping off an impressive 2014 season, Abby walked away with the Class AAA state individual title.

For her achievements, Abby was named The Journal’s Female Runner of the Year.

“It was a pretty good season. It was a lot better than I expected it to be,” Abby said. “Last year, I left saying I was going to be No. 1, but looking at the RunWV posts, I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. After what I’d done over the summer – not what I expected to do, less than I expected to do – I wasn’t really sure where I was going to fall.”

Abby walks to the beat of her own drum, and she approaches cross country in the same way. Most people don’t associate running with mental strategy. Sure, runners need to get mentally prepared, but Abby, unlike most runners, studies the other runners she thinks could give her a run for her money.

“It’s kinda freaky how I do it. Even if I know they’re two minutes behind me, I always feel like somehow something can happen, and I try not to get too cocky about it. That’s what keeps me not cocky,” Abby said. “I’m not really sure (how she got the idea to study her opponents). It kinda just happened. I started to get nervous and I started to worry about everything, and then I guess that kinda happened with worrying.”

Capital’s Peyton Panger and Hampshire’s Hannah Lipps were at the forefront of those opponents. Panger spent most of the season ranked No. 1 in the state, according to RunWV.com, to Abby’s No. 2, while Lipps was Abby’s biggest rival in middle school.

“(I felt) kinda scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen because Hannah being my competition in middle school, not seeing her since middle school, I had no clue what was going to happen,” Abby said. “Peyton, from seeing her from last year, knowing I could beat her but looking at the times on RunWV, I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was scared almost.”

Abby learned everything she could about the pair – their weaknesses, their strengths – enabling her to handle the pair with no problems as the season started winding down.

She earned first at the regional meet with a time of 19 minutes, 16 seconds, while Lipps placed second with a time of 20:21.

Abby used the hills to her advantage at the regional meet but went into the state meet a little more worried about Panger, who is more familiar with the Cabell Midland course than Abby.

“My coach said don’t take that as an advantage. Just because she has that doesn’t mean that it’s an advantage. I try not to focus on that, knowing that she has an advantage,” Abby said. “(Knowing Abby beat Panger at states last year) helped me a lot. I knew I could beat her, but I didn’t know if she could beat me.”

Abby beat Panger in the 2013 state meet with the pair placing second and third, respectively. That knowledge gave Abby a little boost in confidence as the day drew near.

“Physically, I felt awesome. It was pretty great knowing that I didn’t have shin splints like I did in track at the beginning of track, knowing that I was completely healthy through the season, it was pretty good,” Abby said.

Panger stayed with Abby through the first part of the race, but some encouragement along the course to make her move near Mile 2 pushed Abby to take a good lead, earning the state title with a time of 18:23. Panger (18:51) placed second.

The encouragement from all her friends, family, coaches and teammates gave Abby the extra boost to give the race everything she had.

“That’s what’s gotten me through everything – my support. If I didn’t have my support, I wouldn’t be here because that’s what pushes me, that’s what goes through my mind every time I’m running,” Abby said. “I have to do it for these people who support me and believe in me. If I don’t do that, then what’s going to happen?”

In addition to Abby’s usual entourage of her parents, twin sister, teammates and coaches, she had a few extra fans in the crowd, who really inspired Abby, including her grandmother.

“(Her grandmother’s) been there all three years. She’s so sweet, and I just love how she can be there,” Abby said. “For the first time, my aunt and uncle and my other aunt and my cousin, like my best friend, came down, and I saw them and it was so overwhelming. Knowing that all my family was there was pretty great.”

As loud and proud everyone was in Abby’s cheering section, none was louder or prouder than her twin sister Becca, whose T-shirt proudly – and a bit snarkily – proclaimed she’s “Abby’s twin.”

“It helped me a lot knowing that she’s there even though she hates it, hates just standing there in the cold. She always complains about it, but knowing that she’s there, it’s a pretty great feeling,” Abby said.

“Knowing that everybody’s thinking that I’m her makes it an even better feeling because she gets so mad about it. She hates it so much,” Abby joked.

The title had been long awaited for the family, but it was Becca whom Abby bear hugged after crossing the finish line. Abby leaped into her sister’s arms as the twins finally got to celebrate the title. After a long hug between the two, Abby spent the next few minutes spreading the love to all her friends and family.

“I was pretty overwhelmed. It was pretty great knowing that many people love me and support me. It was pretty overwhelming,” Abby said. “My mom was crying the whole time.”

A phone call from former teammate Andrew Milliron before the meet and the blessing to have her team be able to make the trip with her despite not qualifying for states meant the world to the junior.

“It was pretty exciting because (Milliron) also knows me pretty well. He just kept saying just have fun, don’t worry about it, it is what it is. That’s where I got my saying from: it is what it is,” Abby said. “I found out that (the rest of the team wasn’t) going to be able to go to states. I was pretty crushed, but then we managed to work out something for all of them to go, which was amazing, the best feeling ever. Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without them being there. What would I have finished?”

While one of the last to get a hug, she remains one of the most important for Abby: Jefferson coach Suzy Munnis. The relationship between the two transcends coach and athlete, helping Abby be a better runner.

“Sometimes she knows when I’m feeling like, ‘Holy cow, this is going to be a nightmare.’ She always tells me the positive things and lifts me up,” Abby said. “It’s quite great because she actually knows what’s going through my mind most of the time and what’s going to happen, and she’s always right. I don’t know how, but she’s always right. It’s pretty great having her as a coach and as a second mom.”

Now, Abby just wants to spend some time basking in the goal she reached.

“It’s amazing. It really is. The last time somebody won states was Brandon (Doughty). Knowing that I’m as good as he was, that’s just awesome,” Abby said.

But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a goal already in mind for next season.

“Course record. That’s all I’m going for: course record. But somebody could beat me. Somebody could pop out of nowhere and beat me,” Abby laughed.