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Chasing Peggy Melonic is easy, catching her is another story.

Melonic, the high school All-American from East Aurora, said she maintains her focus during a race by pretending she is being chased.

"Usually I get determined to get it done with kind of pretending I'm being chased, so that way if I stop, I'm kind of giving up," said Melonic. "I try to think about how good it's going to feel when it's over, and that even though I was tired, I kept going."

Most of Melonic's pursuers will find beating her a tough road. She enters her senior season of cross country having competed the past two years at the Foot Locker National Championships in Orlando, Fla. She is a three-time Section VI, Class B champion, and joins junior Jenny Koeppel of Amherst as returning first-team All-New York State picks.

Her offseason workouts included daily runs of 7.5 miles, with 10-12 miles on Saturdays. She has been working with assistant coach Walt McLaughlin, using interval training to improve her speed. "That should quicken my leg speed at the beginning and at the end of races," she Melonic, whose personal best in a 3.1-mile race is 17:45. "He's got some real good ideas."

Optimist changes hands

The Western New York Track and Field Officials Association has taken over the annual Evening Optimist meet, ending a 19-year sponsorship run by the local optical company.

The invitational, now known as the WNY Track and Field Officials meet, is Saturday at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.

"We took it over as a group because the Optimist dropped the invitational," said Don Sauer, one of three meet directors. "They were having problems with getting people to work for them. They were down to 5-6 people doing the whole thing. We (the official's organization) took it over. We've got 100 people out there, so we can draw a lot more people to help."

Alex Winstel (Grand Island), Laura Syracuse (West Seneca West) and Melonic (East Aurora) are defending champions.

The first of 12 races begins at 10 a.m. This year's meet includes boys and girls teams from 60 WNY schools, as well as Gates-Chili of Section V.~ Kenmore West leads pack in NFL

Kenmore West senior Brendan Cameron, undefeated in 10 races last year, has won the Niagara Frontier League championship the past three years. The Blue Devils return 11 of its top runners from last year, a team that finished 18-0 in the NFL.

Following Cameron is Jeff Czyz, the team's most focused runner, according to coach Mike Indian, and co-captain Jack McGrath. Both runners like to drive for the front and push themselves the whole way. Justin Rogers has added size and speed during the offseason and co-captain Tom LaRussa must be accounted for.

Boys title defenders

Frontier (Class A), Starpoint (Class B) and Frewsburg (Class C/D) won Section VI titles last year at Elma Meadows.

It appears as though the Falcons are headed toward their seventh title of the '90s. Frontier returns all seven boys who went to last year's state meet: seniors Brian Collins, Dave Haefner, Adam Gaske, Matt Kubiak and juniors Bryan Muldowney, Robert Haefner and Adam Piechowicz.

A sectional crown for Starpoint would be its fourth in a row. The Spartans return six runners who went to states: John Huber, John Gailie, Tim Willett, Chris Kudla, Geoff Heitzenrater and Matt White.

Frewsburg, which won its first title last year, returns four state-experienced runners: Pat Lund, Trevor Cable, Aaron Darr and Nathan Peterson.

Girls title defenders

Defending Section VI champions are Clarence (Class A), Starpoint (Class B) and Allegany-Limestone (Class C/D).

Moving from Class B to Class A in 1996 hasn't interrupted Clarence's string of sectional titles. The Red Devils have won 12 in a row, the past three in Class A and the previous nine in Class B. Clarence returns four girls who represented the Red Devils at states: Allison Jochum, Lindsey Jochum, Kate Kohout, Jamie Varble

Two-time defending champ Starpoint returns six state-tested runners: Andrea Cappello, Angela Kudla, Heather Heppner, Kelly Pimm, Colleen Grell and Lisa Cappello.

Allegany-Limestone, winner of its first sectional since 1991, returns six state runners: Abby Moore, Kristyn Fluent, Anne Finn, Jamie Sikora, Tammy Putt and Erin O'Dea. All-Catholic runners return

Defending All-Catholic girls champion Mt. Mercy, returns four runners who finished in the top 10 at last year's All-Catholic meet: Candace Sonberg, Emily LaDuca, Maggie Carr and Meghan Crotty. Other returning top 10 finishers are: Aileen Hoak (Nardin), Lauren Lewis (Nardin), Mary Claire Lewis (Nardin), Courtney McMahon (Mt. St. Mary's) and Melissa Kay (Sacred Heart). Freshman to watch: Liz Over (St. Mary's/Lancaster). This year's season-ending meet is Nov. 1 at Delaware Park.

Defending boys All-Catholic meet champion Chris Kuroski of St. Mary's/Lancaster returns for his senior year. Rusty Ormsby of St. Mary's/Deaf will challenge Kuroski for the All-Catholic crown. Canisius will defending its team title Oct. 27 at Delaware Park.

All-staters return

Three boys named to the All-New York State team return: Huber of Starpoint (first team, Class B), senior Jesse Rappole of Maple Grove (fourth team, Class C/D) and senior Alex Winstel of Grand Island (sixth team, Class B). Huber finished second in Class B at last year's state meet, running a 16:47.8. Rappole was fifth in Class C.

Melonic and Koeppel are two of 11 girls who return after making the All-New York State team. Koeppel is easing her way back into competition after being diagnosed this summer with a stress fracture to her hip. Koeppel has been doing interval training in the pool to prepare for running outdoors.

Other all-staters are: second team -- senior Erin Mullaney of Lockport (Class A), freshman Andrea Cappello of Starpoint (Class B); fourth team -- sophomore Angela Kudla of Starpoint (Class B); fifth team -- senior Lindsey Jochum of Clarence (Class A), freshman Karen Kozub of Alden (Class B); honorable mention -- senior Michelle Daniels of Orchard Park (Class A), senior Allison Jochum of Clarence (Class A), senior Mollie Metz of Alden (Class B), senior Jenny Fay of Wilson (Class C/D) and junior Kristyn Fluent of Allegany/Limestone (Class C/D).

Five of six runners who won Sectional titles are back: Jenny Fay (Wilson, Class C), Jesse Rappole (Maple Grove, Class C), Melonic (East Aurora, Class B), Erin Mullaney (Lockport, Class A) and Huber (Starpoint, Class B).

Runners to watch

Dustin Thomas of Franklinville, coming off a win on Saturday at Franklinville, is back for his senior year. Seniors Michelle Daniels of Orchard Park and Laura Syracuse of West Seneca West are two of the top runners in Class A. . . . Hoping to make a return trip to the states are: freshman Lindon Wilcox (Albion), senior Natalie Snowberger (Hamburg), senior Betsy Schultz (Akron), senior Steve Harnisch (Clarence) and junior Kyle Pawlaczyk (Hamburg).

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