Lockport’s Sydney Nowicki crossed the finish line at the 2016 NYSPHSAA Championships thinking her 47th-place finish was good enough to qualify for the Federation Championships.
It turned out it wasn’t, and she had to “settle” with All-Western New York first-team honors as an eighth-grader while senior teammate Carissa DiTullio was selected by area coaches as the Runner of the Year.
Missing out on that Federation meet might have turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Nowicki was named the 2017 Runner of the Year following a standout freshman campaign.
Nowicki won the Niagara Frontier League meet in a record time of 18:43, and followed that up with a Section VI Class A title, a 13th-place finish at states and an eighth-place finish at Feds, the best at that event in school history. And she did it all while carrying a 100.5 GPA.
“Her maturity definitely makes her unique,” Lockport coach Tim Willett said. “You wouldn’t know she’s a freshman sometimes by the way she performs and prepares. She’s probably got the best eating habits on the team, she does core strength and exercises. Knowing how she is, she sets goals and goes after them.”
Nowicki met her goal and took it a step further by becoming the first girl in program history to qualify for Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore., where she finished in the top half of the field in 88th after coming in 11th at the New York Regional.
“It was great for her to get that experience to be there on that kind of stage,” Willett said. “I think she learned about her own abilities and she has to trust what got you there. It sets up another goal in mind for the next few years.”
East Aurora senior Ian Russ, the boys Runner of the Year, also competed at Nike Cross Nationals, finishing 86th. The Section VI Class B champ qualified by coming in eighth at the New York Regional.
Russ was one of six boys runners named to All-State first teams. The list includes Grand Island senior Ryan Buzby and Russ in Class B, Newfane senior Samuel Auernhamer in Class C and Maple Grove senior Michael Peppy, Randolph senior Matthew Evans and Cardinal O’Hara junior Tom Appenheimer in Class D.
Clarence junior Grey Conover joins Buzby, Peppy and Russ as the four repeat selections on the All-WNY boys first team, while Nowicki, East Aurora senior Molly McLaughlin and Cattaraugus/Little Valley senior Abby Gostomski are back on the girls side.
Four girls were named to an All-State first team: East Aurora sisters Megan and Molly McLaughlin in Class B, Newfane junior Kim Goerss in Class C and Maple Grove freshman Christina Peppy in Class D.
Christina Peppy and classmate Ava Crist moved up from second team All-WNY as eighth-graders. Peppy was the top local finisher in the NYSPHSAA Class D race, in fourth. Crist finished 11th, which was good for second team All-State in Class D.
Christina’s older brother Michael, a two-time sectional champ, was the Class D runner-up at the NYSPHSAA Championships as the Red Dragons also finished second as a team. He’s been a scholar athlete all four years of high school.
Second-year Maple Grove coach Stephen Matteson repeated as the boys Coach of the Year after the Red Dragons followed up their 2016 state title with a runner-up finish in 2017. The girls came in third as a team, only seven points away from the top spot.
East Aurora’s Megan McLaughlin was on the All-WNY second team as a seventh-grader last year. Her postseason finishes were second at sectionals, seventh at states, 14th at the Federation meet and 14 at the Nike New York Regional. Older sister Molly repeated as the Section VI Class B champ, and came in sixth at states, 34th at Feds and 48th at regionals.
Last year’s girls Coach of the Year, Newfane’s Mike Heitzenrater, shared the honors this year with East Aurora’s Walt McLaughlin. The Panthers and Blue Devils finished second at the NYSPHSAA Championships in Class C and B, respectively.
Clymer/Sherman/Panama sophomore Kylee Odell beat out defending Class D champ Abby Gostomski for the sectional crown by running a career-best 5K time of 18:58. She was recognized as the top sophomore runner in WNY by the coaches and named to the All-State second team.
Abby Gostomski came in 14th at states in Class D, eight-tenths of a second and one spot behind twin sister Bailey. Holland/Pioneer senior Riley Jones, a three-time state qualifier, was named to the All-State Class B fourth team and is headed to the University at Buffalo.
Newfane’s Auernhamer recovered from a stress fracture in his foot that essentially wiped out his junior season to help the Panthers place third as a team at states, the best finish in school history for the boys.
Grand Island’s Buzby ran the 10th-fastest time at the NYSPHSAA Championships and finished fifth in the Class B race, six spots ahead of Russ. He was also named to the state Class B first team.
Conover was named the top junior runner in the area, as he helped Clarence dethrone Frontier at the Section VI meet by two points for the Class A title. Orchard Park senior Cal Puskar ran the fastest time among locals in the Class A field at states with a 38th-place finish.
West Seneca East senior Josh Glaub capped his career with the Trojans by finishing 30th in the state Class B race. O’Hara’s Appenheimer defended his title at the All-Catholic Championships to move up from 2016 All-WNY honorable mention honors.