Irene Riggs Claims Gatorade National Cross Country POY Honor

* On Wednesday, Irene Riggs was announced as Gatorade's National Cross Country Player Of The Year

Photo Credit: Gatorade

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By: Olivia Ekpone - MileSplit

This past fall was a magical one for Irene Riggs

The Morgantown (WV) High School senior went undefeated in cross country and was able to rewrite the record books as she ran a personal best 5,000 meter time of 16:02 at the Team Southeast Regional in November. 

Her performance didn't just eclipse the 2019 WakeMed course by 20 seconds -- which was previously held by three-time Gatorade National Player Of The Year Katelyn Tuohy -- but it also was the second-fastest 5K time in high school history. 

On Wednesday, Gatorade announced one of the country's highest honors for cross country. Riggs was the honoree. The Stanford signee was named the Gatorade National Cross Country Player Of The Year.

On Tuesday, Riggs said she was supposed to meet one of her friends for a run. Events took a turn, however, as Riggs' coach messaged her to take the day off. Instead, her friend encouraged her to go for a walk.

At that point, Riggs already knew something was going on. But she went with it. 

All of a sudden, as she recounted for MileSplit on Wednesday, things started happening in a blur: She was welcomed by her coaches, teammates and family, showered with orange balloons, and then was named as Gatorade's National Player Of the Year trophy. Following her walk home, of course. 

"Whenever I found out, I was shocked and surprised," Riggs said. "I felt very honored to be selected as the choice. This award has an incredible history of athletes in all different realms of sports. All the winners are great people as individuals and athletes so it means a lot to be considered as one of the recipients." 

After earning three straight West Virginia's Player Of The Year honors, Riggs capped her cross country season as the National Player Of The Year. 

"It means so much," Riggs said. "It's definitely a little bit of a full circle moment. You hear about this award as soon as you come into high school. I never dreamed I would win the national one. It's definitely honoring and shocking."

Her season was like no other, however, and quite deserving.

The three-time West Virginia cross country champion became the first in state history to win a national prep cross country title, doing so in Portland at Team Nationals as she ran a 16:40 at the Glendoveer Cross Country course. Her performance was the second-fastest time in course history. 

* Irene Riggs accepts the Gatorade National Player Of The Year

Photo Credit: Gatorade

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And yet, her cross country season isn't just over yet, either.

On Saturday she won the USATF U20 title after finishing with a time of 19:45 for 6K. She beat three other Gatorade state Player Of The Year winners. Riggs will lead Team USA next month at the World U20 Cross Country Championships in Australia. 

Even though she's proud of her victories at the regional and national meets, Riggs felt that the turning point in her career was her performance at the West Virginia Group 3A Region I Championships. 

"The Southeast Regional and the state meet were great races for me," Riggs said. "They were really good confidence boosters for me. My conference race was my first race back after my foot injury. I ended up breaking 17 minutes for 5K for the first time on the course in flats. All the cross-training worked. [I thought] it's still there and I could still have a good season." 

While Riggs is deserving on the grass, what she's done in the classroom and in the community also holds merit. 

Throughout the year, Riggs maintained a 4.22 unweighted GPA while she served as the Vice President of the student body at Morgantown. She was also a student council representative while she volunteered as a youth coach for the Club Mountaineer Aquatics. 

Photo Credit: Gatorade

Gatorade National Cross Country Player Of The Year Winners Since 2007

Related Links:

Irene Riggs, Leo Young Lead The Way At USATF U20 XC Champs

Irene Riggs Clocked Second-Fastest XC 5K In HS History

On The Line: A Conversation With XC ZStnadout Irene Riggs

West Virginia's Irene Riggs Finished Off '22 With A Bang