It's that time of year when cross country coaches start asking more out of their runners.
Starpoint's boys and girls responded Saturday by sweeping the medium school titles at the Clarence Fall Classic at Akron Falls Park. The 27th annual event drew a field of 472 runners in six varsity races. The races over the challenging 3.1-mile course took place under sunny skies with temperatures in the mid-50s.
"We did take it out a little fast and our objective was really to run in a little bit of pain," said Spartans coach Brian Lasher. "We're going to try and put ourselves in a little discomfort for the purpose of preparing for the tough sectional course. Our objective was to win this meet, but it was ultimately a training objective."
The Starpoint boys had three runners among the top 10 to top a nine-team field. Junior Zach Ahart made the most of his run over the soft, muddy course, winning his race by a 52-second margin in 17:04.1. Teammate Lee Gugino was sixth and Cam Laderer was 10th.
Ahart took the lead for good just 800 meters in. He was able to tame a steep, narrow hill that greeted each runner about 400 meters from the finish.
"That final hill kind of [stunk], but I pushed through it," said Ahart, who placed fifth last year. "Usually I like to pace a race, but my coach had me go out hard. I'm looking out for the sectionals."
The Starpoint girls scored 53 points to beat runnerup Rochester Mercy by 13 points, but it was junior Brenna Symoniak of Amherst who won the race. Her 19:13.3 was the fastest time of the day for girls by nearly a 1-minute margin. Katie Noblock of Sweet Home was second.
Starpoint's top four were Lauren Scarupa (third), Courtney Laderer (ninth), Cassie Weldon (13th) and Molly Emerick (14th).
"For Lauren Scarupa, time-wise it's difficult to say, because it's a slow course, but she was running with a young lady who is ranked very, very high in New York State [Symoniak], so I've got to believe that was an awesome time for her," said Lasher. "We had a young lady come back into the lineup today who's been out for a little bit with a breathing issue, she managed everything today, so that certainly strengthened our team."
Allegany-Limestone's girls gave Section VI its third team title, winning the small school race. Kelly Heuer of Roy-Hart won it in 21:17.8. A-L's Gators placed three among the top 10: Sam Stady (third), Megan Bischof (fourth) and Alyssa Stroud (ninth).
In the large school races, Clarence fared the best among Section VI teams with third-place finishes for the boys and girls. Taylor Yerrick of the Red Devils was runnerup in 16:58.9, the second-fastest time of the day for boys. He found himself behind eventual winner Greg Redfield of Penfield before reaching the final hill.
"As soon as you get there you have to have a nice, steady pace and eventually work your way up," said Yerrick. "Getting there is extremely important. I was trying to stay as consistent as I could during the race."
Hilton's girls took the top four places in the girls race before freshman Kaitlin McCadden of Clarence finished in 20:36.6. Hilton is No. 21 in the state's Class AA poll.
"They had an amazing race. They ran in a big pack," said McCadden. "I have hope for our team that someday we can do that. They can definitely push you to go faster."