Melissa Hale doesn't know the cross country course at Beaver Island like the back of her hand, but she knows it by the front.
Thanks to the directions the JFK junior wrote in ink on her palm, she was able to find her way around the course in a winning time of 20:18. Hale's efforts came at the second annual Western New York Track and Cross Country Officials meet, which drew a varsity field of 388 runners to compete in eight races.
"I don't have the best memory. I get lost easily," said Hale. "It's happened a couple times. And then you freeze when you're running. It's the worst feeling."
The invitational, originally known as the Buffalo State Invitational and later The Evening Optimist, is the first major local meet of the cross country season.
Hale wasn't the only one who found the near-perfect running conditions on Grand Island to her liking. Canisius placed two runners in the Top Five (Paul Riley and Ryan O'Rourke) and won the boys' large school title by a mere three seconds over Frontier (85:34 to 85:37). The top five times counted toward team scores. Crusaders coach Jim Skipper said when his third runner became ill, Victor Perez filled in and made the difference as the team's fifth-place time.
But it was senior John Beyer of St. Joe's who won the race with the fastest time of the day: 16:15 over the 3.1-mile course.
"I've been working (out) since track. I guess this is what I get. I'll take it," said Beyer. "I knew my buddy over there from Canisius (Riley) has a great kick, so I just told myself to keep moving my legs."
It was also a big day for Amherst. Not only did the Tigers win the overall small school title, junior Ryan Mikrut ran his race in a career-best 16:52. With four of their top five runners back, the Tigers also look to do some damage in the ECIC this year.
"I didn't want to go out too fast because I have an agitated hamstring," said Mikrut. "It felt pretty good at the one-mile mark and I started taking the lead and pulling away."
It doesn't look like it's going to take Caitlin English long to make a name for herself. The freshman from Nardin won the girls large school race in 20:03, a personal-best by a gaudy 18 seconds.
"I didn't think I was going to win it. I was shooting for Top 10," said English, who's 5-foot, 100-pounds. "When I got out of the woods my coach said I only had a half-mile to go and that's when I broke out."
Nardin took three of the top four places with Tamara Dawli finishing third and Jessica Hamm coming in fourth.
Led by a pair of freshmen, Fredonia took top honors among the small school girls. First-year cross country runner Christiana Martin finished in 20:28 while Becky Castleberry improved her time by about four minutes in finishing in 21:36.
Other varsity race winners were: John Ferguson of Williamsville East (17:08), Brandon Carmichael of Sherman (17:35), Jessica Haefner of Frontier (20:31) and Liz Burns of Mt. St. Mary's (20:45).
Most of the day's races were decided handily. Mikrut enjoyed the largest margin of victory (25 seconds). The closest was five seconds as Haefner's 20:31 bettered Nicole Bonadonna of Lockport, who ran a 20:36.