Many of the top cross-country runners from Section VI got their first glimpse of the state championship course at Section V's Wayne High School at the pre-state meet on Sept. 16.
Maple Grove senior Michael Peppy and East Aurora eighth-grader Megan McLaughlin won their respective races that day while there was a heat advisory. The conditions will be quite different on Saturday, to say the least. The forecast as of Thursday afternoon is a high of 36 degrees with a low of 22.
But in an event where the best of the best all converge at one location, it'll be the same for every competitor.
“I think our biggest worry about the course is that big freeze that's going to happen on Friday and Friday night,” Maple Grove coach Steve Matteson said. “Where it's really muddy, if all that mud freezes in bad positions it could be hard on the ankles if it doesn't thaw.”
“We’ve got our extra-long spikes, tape, we’ve talked about ways to tie our shoes,” Newfane coach Mike Heitzenrater said. “A muddy course could be advantageous for the kids who aren’t necessarily star track sprinters, so we’ll be mentally ready for the conditions and weather.”
Newfane's girls team is one of two from Section VI that will look to defend their state titles at Saturday's meet, which starts at 9 a.m. Junior Kimberly Goerss is one of the many standouts back for the Panthers, who will be joined by Samuel Auernhamer and the boys team this year.
“We have only one girl who graduated from the team last year," Heitzenrater said. "There’s a few new bodies that have made their way in and have made an impact. ... I always tell the kids that you don’t have to do anything special when it gets to the big meets. Just do what you did all season.”
Maple Grove won its first-ever boys state title at Chenango Valley State Park last season in Matteson's first year as coach, and the girls weren't too far behind with a second-place finish. Both Red Dragons squads should be in contention once again.
"Our teams, they're peaking at the right time," Matteson said. "We ran some large school races earlier in the season that gave us some good competition, and our kids are running better and better. They're ready for the state meet Saturday to give everything they have for everyone on the team."
Two-time Section VI Class D champ Michael Peppy finished third at the state meet last year and was the only runner to finish in under 17 minutes in the Division 4 race at the pre-state meet. No girls graduated from a strong group that's led by freshmen Ava Crist and Christina Peppy.
“It’s a big confidence booster going into the state meet with that positive momentum,” Michael Peppy said at Bemus Point Golf Club last Saturday. “This year was an up-and-down year, but I think right now I’m going into my peak.”
Class A is always among the toughest divisions. Lockport freshman Sydney Nowicki, who ran the fastest girls time in Section VI last weekend, is well aware of that having competed at states the past two years.
“Class A is one of the most competitive in New York,” said Nowicki, who came in 47th in 2016. “I’m really just hoping for a top 20 finish, but it’s going to be a lot of hard work. My class is so fast, it’s crazy.”
There were two new team champions in Class A last weekend won by the Clarence boys and West Seneca West girls, who also won the overall ECIC title.
West Seneca West junior Anna Rybczynski finished a minute behind Nowicki last weekend and came in 24th in the D-1 pre-state race. Other strong runners for the Indians include Emma Larkman, Sarah Mruk, Allison Stainsby and Chloe Wegelin.
Clarence junior Grey Conover came in 31st at states as a sophomore and finished second behind Orchard Park's Cal Puskar for the individual title at Bemus Point. He'll be joined by classmate Dan Daddario, who came in fourth at sectionals, and a couple other top Red Devils.
In Class B, East Aurora's girls team came in third last year and the boys in sixth. Ian Russ had the top overall boys time at the Section VI Championships, and Molly McLaughlin beat younger-sister Megan by a split second.
“On the girls side, we should be in the thick of things,” Blue Devils coach Walt McLaughlin said last weekend. “Any time you can line up and have a chance at a state title, that’s a great thing. On the boys side, we’ll be in the mix. I think we’re well-prepared, so we just wanna line up and give it our best shot.”
Class D girls champion Kylee Odell of Clymer/Sherman/Panama was 29th at the state meet in 2016 and came in seventh in the D-3 pre-state race. It'll be the first time at states for Fredonia sophomore Emily Brown, who edged out Newfane's Goerss by .4 seconds in a sprinting finish at Bemus Point.
Results from the 2016 NYSPHSAA Championships:
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