Joe Whelan says he's injury-free now and he's got Saturday's ECIC title to prove it.
Bothered by a sore kneecap after this summer's junior nationals, the Hamburg senior took the time off he needed to recover. Able to stand on his own two feet again, Whelan turned in a solid run to win the overall title at the ECIC Cross Country Championships at Alden.
The field included 179 boys and 161 girls from 25 schools from the ECIC.
The ideal running conditions that had embraced much of this cross country season were a memory on Saturday. A steady rain produced standing water along the open areas of the course and turned the trails through the woods into a mud bath.
Whelan fell one mile into his race after taking a corner too tight. He quickly gathered himself and kept pushing to finish in 16:09.3. For someone who spent the summer in physical therapy instead of on the roads, winning was just what the doctor ordered.
"I'm happy with how things are going. Nothing hurts," said Whelan, who hopes to qualify for the Footlocker National Championship. "I didn't run at all this summer. I've only been running seven weeks right now. I'm all healthy now."
The winners by league were: junior Eric Willis of Clarence (ECIC I), Whelan (ECIC II), junior Zach Ahart of Starpoint (ECIC III) and senior Scott Anderson of East Aurora (ECIC IV). Anderson was defending champion winning last year's title at EA.
Team titles went to: Clarence (ECIC I), Hamburg (ECIC II), Starpoint (ECIC III) and East Aurora (ECIC IV).
Among the girls, junior Brenna Symoniak of Amherst was able to separate herself from Jamie Wallace of Alden to win the overall girls race in 18:51.6. "I was kind of freaking out coming into this because I know Jamie and the East Aurora girls are really good runners," said Symoniak. "Any fault and they can be right on you, but it started feeling good and I said, 'OK, I can do this.' "
The division winners were sophomore Chelsea Needham of West Seneca West (ECIC I), junior Katie Niblock of Sweet Home (ECIC II), Symoniak (ECIC III) and Wallace (ECIC IV).
Team titles went to West Seneca West (ECIC I), Lake Shore (ECIC II), Starpoint (ECIC III) and East Aurora (ECIC IV).
West Seneca West had all seven runners in the top 22 to secure the ECIC I title. Lake Shore juniors Mikelle Cala and Kim Vona were 2-3 to secure ECIC II. Starpoint got a strong run from Lauren Scarupa to help them win a share of ECIC III with Amherst. In ECIC IV, East Aurora took 2-8 with no one running slower than 7:09.4 pace.
NFL Championships: The Lockport boys and the Grand Island girls won team titles at Beaver Island State Park. Evan Tsembelis of Grand Island won the boys race in 16:31.8. His sister, Martina, was the girls race winner in 20:43.
Niagara-Orleans League: The Barker boys and the Wilson girls won team titles at Lakeside Beach. Kevin Hanes of Wilson won the boys race in 17:56.9 while Hannah Moffett of Albion won the girls race in 20:16.1.