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Justin Craddock burst upon the national high school track scene in much the same way he runs his races -- very quickly.

Unranked and unproven a year ago, the Kenmore East senior has become one of the top high school runners in the country in the 800 meters.

"A lot of people run it 40 0/4 00. I run it more like 60 0/2 00. I go out as fast as possible and in a lot of cases I don't get out-kicked," said Craddock. "I consider myself a mental runner. If someone tries to pass me, I want to show that I still have something left. It's kind of like proving yourself."

Craddock wrapped up his indoor season in March, winning the 800 at the National Scholastic Championships at The Armory in Manhattan. His time of 1:51.36 ranked No. 1 in the county in the final poll and was the fourth-fastest in the nation all-time.

The week before at the New York State High School Championships in Syracuse, he won the 600, setting a Section VI record in 1:20.59, the sixth-best time in the country.

Craddock's accomplishments come as no surprise to his coaches, Gary Toche, Geoff Brunger, Marty Madore and Sam Hasan, all witnesses to how hard he trains.

Madore, his coach in ninth and 10th grade, says Craddock still stops by his classroom at Franklin Middle at least once a week just to talk track.

Brunger said Craddock is carrying on the Bulldogs track tradition while writing his own history.

"Back in the '70s, Kenmore East had quite a program," he said. "We had a 400 relay team (Doug Gugino, Jim Pritchard, John Meyer and Dave Chiazza) that went something like 3:17. This kid reminds me of that crew. He's a throwback. I don't know if I've ever had a kid who works harder."

Craddock hopes that hard work will carry him to his next goal, the Section VI record in the outdoor 800. Dennis Webster of Clarence has held the record at 1:51.09 since 1988. "I think I can get that as long as my training stays right where it is," said Craddock.

Craddock also runs a sub-50 in the 400 and is a 21-foot long jumper.

Defending state champs

Two Section VI athletes will attempt to win state titles for the third straight year. Desiree Rudloff of East Aurora is a two-time champion of the small school 400 hurdles while Lisa Romano of Eden has won the small school 100 meters twice.

Romano is working on her starts in hopes of breaking the 12-second barrier. She has been offered a scholarship at St. Mary's of Maryland and is waiting for a final offer from the University at Buffalo. Rudloff was also a member of the Blue Devils' 1,600 relay along with Sarah Mosser, Carley Kramer and Danielle Kelley. All four are back and look to lower the school record they own of 3:59.87.

Tiffany Maskulinski of Iroquois broke the state record while winning the large school pole vault in 13 feet, 5 1/2 inches. Maskulinski is leaning toward signing with Washington State. . . . Mary Saxer of Lancaster won the large school long jump in 19-5, setting the Section VI record. Senior Alyissa Hasan of Williamsville South won the large school 100 hurdles. DaVinci's 400 relay team, two-time state champions, returns Chelsea Prophet, Karen Lackey and Kim Williams.

Saxer to Notre Dame

With the nation's colleges to choose from, pole vault phenom Saxer of Lancaster has signed with Notre Dame. Saxer jumped a national record 14 feet, 2 inches at the Nike Indoor championships.

Saxer also considered North Carolina. "I visited a few other schools, but there I just felt the most comfortable," she said. "I just felt a sense of family there. I had to look at the school as a whole like if anything were to happen in track, I wanted to love the school and get a good education."

Around the boys tracks

Dennis Pollow of Wilson is one of the premier track athletes in Section VI, having signed a national letter of intent with Penn State. He owns school records in the 400, 800 and 1,600. . . . The 1,600 promises to be one of the most exciting events of the season. Several Western New York athletes have been putting up amazing times this winter racing at elite invitationals. Senior Mark Russell (Lockport) ran a 4:17.03 in January. Travis Prejean (Jamestown) ran 4:17.20 at the indoor nationals. Not far behind are seniors Dan Healy of West Seneca West (also a factor in the steeplechase), Mike Deren (Frontier), juniors Mike Dobmeier (Williamsville North), Pat Russell (Lockport) and sophomores Andrew Pfeiffer (Clarence) and Jon Haenle (Lockport). Based on the indoor season, the Section VI outdoor record of 4:13.07 looks vulnerable. . . . Orchard Park is off to a fast start, having already successfully defended its title in the Maroon Classic and having beaten Jamestown for the first time in over 15 years. Not only do the Quakers have numbers (65 came out for the team), they also have plenty of talent with returning Section VI discus champion Chris Murphy, sprinter Ron Fulton and pentathlete Matt Callegari. . . . Continuing the sprint tradition at Eden will be junior Dan Schichtel, who is ready to make his mark after running in the shadow of Keien Williams for two years. . . . It's no coincidence that 15 of the 23 boys on Cardinal O'Hara's team played football in the fall. First-year track coach Doug Buczak spent the last four seasons as a varsity assistant in football. . . . After 37 seasons, Bob Wainman of Iroquois has retired from coaching. The Chiefs seek to win ECIC III for the 10th year in a row. . . . Lancaster, winner of back-to-back Section VI indoor titles, looks to get it done outdoors. The Redskins are strong in the field events with Justin Halleck (shot put, discus), Steve Maciejewski (shot put, discus) and Jim Townsend (sixth in the state indoor in pole vault). . . . Canisius seeks to win the All-Catholic title for the fifth year in a row. . . . Junior Brent Titus of St. Francis is a strong favorite to win the All-Catholic discus title for the third year. He was third at the Catholic states (153-3). . . . Kenmore West senior James Mallory, who has an early-season 11.3 in the 100, has signed with Central Connecticut for football. The versatile Joe Hughes (800-3,200) of the Blue Devils has signed with Niagara for cross country. . . . The Niagara Frontier League is as strong as ever. Lockport's Mark Russell is ranked nationally in the indoor mile and competed at the Millrose Games. Niagara Falls' James Starks (100, 200) heads to UB for football, senior P.J. Harris of Lockport is a top sprinter and senior Kevin Olejar of Lewiston-Porter excels in the distances and the steeplechase. . . . Joe Wielgus of Tonawanda looks for another strong season in the hurdles and the 100. . . . Hutch-Tech is returning a solid veteran team and will be the class of the Scalp and Blade. Twins Jon and Joe Zangara of Tech and Tim Tate (McKinley) will own the distances. Rayford Bragg (Lafayette) is ready to establish himself in the sprints. Cordell Nelson (City Honors) will be tough in the HJ and LJ. . . . For the first time in 28 years the Walter Hutchison Invitational had to be canceled. Wilson Director of Athletics Charlie Jufer said there were too many conflicts with other meets when the state moved the track season up one week to accommodate exams. . . . Look for Grant Wheldon of Orchard Park to win his share of races in the 400 and 800.

Around the girls tracks

Track is all the rage at two-time league champion daVinci where 40 girls and 17 boys are on the team. Sprinter Kim Williams is deciding between a pair of NCAA Division I schools: UB and Binghamton. Chelsea Prophet is one of the section's top hurdlers. . . . Orchard Park has one of section's deepest teams with Jessica Nowak (1500, 3000), Christine Sprehe (400, 800), Erika Somogyi (400, 400H), Emily Callegari (hurdles, 800) and Alice Buskus (TJ, 400H), Caitlin Kelly (pentathlon). . . . Jenna and Jessica Ortman of Williamsville South have signed letters of intent for the University at Albany. . . . Lancaster, winners of three straight Section VI indoor titles, will score plenty of points with Saxer and senior Shannon Crane, the school record holder in the 800 (2:14.3) and 1,500 (4:32.26). Keep an eye on the Redskins' Melissa Kurzdorfer, who has thrown the shot put 37-3 indoors -- and she's a seventh grader. . . . Junior sprinter Ali Jenkins leads defending All-Catholic champion Sacred Heart. She is the two-time defending All-Catholic champion in the 100 and looks to repeat as champion of the 200. . . . Section VI boasts a strong class of sophomores: Reya Russell of North Tonawanda (hurdles), Arielle Januszkiewicz of Amherst (distance), Natalie Fildres of West Seneca East (sprints), and Brianna Steele of Newfane (pentathlon, jumps). . . . Hutch-Tech junior Daisy Peoples, who came within two spots of qualifying for states in cross country, will concentrate on the 400 and 800. Felicia Harris is a two-time All-High champ in the shot put. Among the city's top sprinters are Kim Williams (City Honors) and Felicia Williams (Traditional). . . . Gina Adornetto of Clarence will run the 400 hurdles regularly and be the front-runner in the steeplechase. . . . Megan Hathaway of Niagara-Wheatfield will continue her track career at Bucknell.