A headache, fierce winds and being chased by the race favorite weren't enough to deny Mark Russell the Class AA title at Friday's Section VI Cross Country Championships at Elma Meadows.
The Lockport senior won by a mere one-second margin over last year's runner-up, Mike Deren of Frontier.
"I had a headache and the whole last mile killed me," said Russell, clocked at 16:31.1. "We ran into the wind for a good 600 meters, and it just pulled you back. It's like you were walking."
The winning team in each of the day's 10 races, along with the top five finishers not on the winning team, advanced to the New York State Championships next Saturday at Chenango Valley State Park in Binghamton.
Russell's race highlighted an amazing showing by the Lions, who won their third straight sectional team title. Despite a course softened by Thursday's daylong rain, Lockport's cumulative time (top five runners) of 84:35.6 was the third fastest all time on the Elma Meadows course.
The Lions looked very much like a team ranked No. 9 in the nation and No. 3 in the Northeast. All seven runners placed in the top 25 as Patrick Russell, John Haenle, Lyle Tolli and Brett Finnan placed 4-5-6-7.
Frontier was runner-up, placing three runners (Deren, sophomore Josh Zubler and John Diggins) among the top 11.
Class A: Kenmore East won its first team title since 1972. Jack Dafgard was the top Bulldog finisher, placing third in 17:31.6. Mike Dobmier of Williamsville North ran a 17:03.4 to win by a 25-second margin.
"The wind was killer out there. The hills were pretty bad, too," he said. "This is the best I've felt."
Class B: Sophomore Ryan O'Connor set the tone for an impressive showing by East Aurora, winning in 17:25.9.
"The first Newfane runner (Jason Fischer) was really pushing me," said O'Connor. "I didn't know he was that good, but he was there, so I just had to push by him."
The Blue Devils' seven runners placed among the top 23.
Class C: Wilson swept the team and individual titles. Dennis Pollow of the Lakemen successfully defended his title, winning in 17:08.3.
"I knew it was going to be really windy, but I knew it was going to be windy for everybody," said Pollow.
The team title was the first for Wilson since 1975.
Class D: Josh Lange of Frewsburg, runner-up last year, won in 18:15.3. Barker won its first team title since 1987 as Chris Lantinen and Ismeal DeJesus finished 2-3.
Class AA: Shannon Crane of Lancaster fought her way through breathing problems to win her second sectional title in a row. Crane's time of 19:23.1 was the fastest of the day among the five girls races.
"I just wanted to get through this," said Crane, who led from start to finish. "After the Alden Invite my breathing got really bad, so I've been trying nose spray, inhalers and I've got this Breathe Right strip (on my nose)."
Orchard Park won its fourth straight sectional, carried by 4-7-8 finishes by Jessica Nowak, Patricia Rich and Erika Somogyi.
Class A: Senior Mary Veith of Lake Shore won in 19:29.48.
"Some spots were deep in mud, and the downhills were pretty rough because they were slick," said Veith.
The Eagles also won the team title as all seven runners ran under 23:15.
Class B: Jamie Rzepecki of East Aurora took the lead for good at the first hill, but she needed to leg out the win at the end as teammate Sarah Mosser closed in fast. The pair also finished 1-2 at the ECICs.
The Blue Devils won the team title for the third straight year. Their cumulative time of 101:50.7 placed them sixth all time on the course. Senior Amber Sawaya of Olean qualified for the fourth year in a row.
Class C: Akron won its first team title in seven years, as the Tigers' Fawn Dorr claimed her third sectional title in a row, finishing in 20:29.3. She became just the eighth runner in meet history to win three sectional titles. Akron freshman Casey Neill placed fourth in 23:23.1.
Class D: Junior Michelle Damcott of Sherman made it two sectional titles in a row, running a 21:38. Randolph cruised to the team title, spurred by 2-3 finishes Christina DiLallo and Danielle Howard.