The sight of Williamsville North’s girls green and gold cross country jerseys leading the charge on area courses became such a common sight this season that the current edition of the Spartans did what no other North team had done since 1980 in winning an ECIC I Division title.
The Spartans, who finished 5-0 to end Clarence’s reign atop the division, rank first among large schools in the latest Western New York Coaches Poll. They hope to add to their trophy case in the coming weeks, beginning this Saturday at East Aurora at the ECIC Championships. The Section VI championship meet at Sunshine Park in West Seneca is Oct. 31.
“This is something the girls have been working toward for a while,” fifth-year Spartans coach Julian Blake said of the division crown. “Since I’ve taken over the program, the girls have just gotten stronger and set higher standards. … The program has grown because of it, and the girls have grown with the program.”
That is has, but the Spartans may have received a boost in reaching the top of the ECIC mountain this season from first-year runner Naomi Wistner. The eighth-grader, a former field hockey player, joined North’s indoor track team last winter. She’s now North’s top runner, setting the course record recently in winning the Pembroke Invitational in 18:44. Her efforts helped the Spartans run off with the team title. North also won the Town of Amherst Championships.
“We knew right away when she started to run indoor she had great potential,” said Blake. “She really just loves to run.”
She’s not the only Spartan born to run. Senior Danielle Dorogi is in her sixth season with the program and has qualified for states the past four years. Classmate Kennedy Copeland has a personal-best 19:33 for a 5K on her resume. Senior Lizzy Schmidt and junior Ellie Garrity round out North’s top five.
Omens won’t enable North to take the next step. Only hard work and desire will aid the Spartans in their quest to win a Section VI title.
Still, the last time they won the division was also the last time they won a Section VI title.
North boys eye prize
Will North’s girls aren’t the only Spartans hungry for a title. North’s boys also crave a Section VI title, but first the Spartans want to capture the ECIC I crown.
North, Clarence and Lancaster finished in a three-way tie for first in the division. Clarence beat the Spartans when the latter ran without two of their top harriers. Lancaster has a win over the Red Devils, while North has beaten Lancaster. Clarence is ranked second in WNY, North third and Lancaster fourth.
Whoever does best at ECICs will take the division.
“We feel we can do it,” said first-year North coach Brian Lasher, who coached the previous 25 seasons at Starpoint. “We feel at our best we’re hard to beat.”
North’s top runner is freshman Colin Begley, who posted a 16:14 time two weeks ago at the Alden Stampede. Right behind him are seniors Patrick Crowley (16:28 personal-best) and Mike Leczinsky (16:29 at Alden). Leczinsky qualified for states in 2013.
The Spartans’ Ryan Konopopskyj, Austin Oetinger and Kevin Seitz all have the ability to finish under 17 minutes on a given day.
Sweet Home is strong
North’s not the only strong team in its town.
Sweet Home’s boys are ranked first among large schools, while the Panthers’ girls are second.
Senior Mitchell Daddario set the course record at Sweet Home during a meet last week against Hamburg, finishing in 15:56. He’s talking with Lehigh, Penn State and the University at Buffalo, according to coach Brian Lombardo.
Daddario is one of four returnees from last year’s Section VI Class B championship squad, which won the title via tiebreaker over East Aurora. Sophomore Chris Nowak has gone as low as 16:08. Junior Kevin Terragnoli and junior Peter Miller are other returnees, while newcomers Zach Davis, Joey Gerlach and Matt Penberthy all run in the 17:20 range.
Sweet Home won the Town of Amherst Championships, finished second to East Aurora at the East Aurora Invitational and recently took fourth at the New Balance Elite Race at Disney World. The Panthers’ girls have a couple runner-up finishes (East Aurora and Town of Amherst), took fourth in the AA-seeded race at the McQuaid Invitational and eighth at the New Balance Race. Senior Aileen Doyle took first at the East Aurora Invitational and Town of Amherst Championships, second at McQuaid and third at Disney.
Best of best at ECICs
What does Lombardo like most about the ECIC Championships?
“All these great runners who are normally in a different class at sectionals, they’re all in the same race,” he said. “You get a lot of girls in that fast pack and sometimes girls are used to racing alone because they’re in front of everybody. That helps them at states because very rarely is there a breakaway winner at states. You usually have to stay in there to win.”
The girls race should be fascinating. Doyle’s won two invitationals, while East Aurora’s Sophia Tasselmyer won the Alden Stampede and had the fastest time at the Section VI meet last year. Teammate Fiona Danieu along with Clarence’s Katrina Patterson and North’s Wistner all figure to be in the title hunt. You also can’t discount Ortega, who has run in countless big meets, and Peterman.
It’ll be the first time Tasselmyer and Doyle race each other this season.
Among the boys, contenders include Begley, Daddario, Nowak, Lake Shore’s Calvin Butlak, East Aurora’s Kenny Vasbinder, Alden’s Dylan Servos and Clarence’s Anthony Casullo.
The Red Devils’ boys team appears to have a better shot at contending for a Section VI title than the rebuilding/reloaded girls team.
Besides Casullo, who has a 16:45 to his credit, senior classmates Zachary Kuloszewski and Greg Blackburn return for a team that’s won the last three Section VI Class A titles.
Sam Costich and Matt Johnson also run in the low to mid 17-minute range.
The girls are a little young, having graduated top runners Marissa Saenger and Emily Garrett. But Clarence returns reliable runners in Patterson and sophomore Liz Rott.
Around the course
• Niagara Falls’ Anthony Hawthorne hopes to defend his Niagara Frontier League title but it won’t be easy as the senior will have to ward off Lockport’s Connor Doran, Lew-Port’s Greg Avila-Shah and Ken West’s Octavio Smith – just to name a few.
Still, Hawthorne, who is receiving interest from Division I schools, already has a win under his belt in a big-time event, taking first at the Knox Invitational and Western New York Officials meets. He also set the course record at Bond Lake Course No. 2, Falls’ home, when he posted a 16:37 time.
• Another Falls runner, Donny McCoy, is receiving Division I interest – in wrestling. One of the top wrestlers in the state uses cross country to help stay in shape for wrestling season.
• Lockport went 7-0 in the NFL, followed by Niagara Falls (6-1) and North Tonawanda (5-2). Besides Doran, other top runners for the Lions include Chris Sims, Scott Anderson, Adam Perilli and Dez Orsolits. Doran’s PR is 16:12 set two weeks ago at Alden. Among the Lockport girls, look for Abbey Lang and Hannah Kurbs to make noise at the league championship meet Saturday and at sectionals.
• St. Joe’s junior Anthony Belfatto is ranked ninth in the state among runners from private schools. He recently placed first at the Clarence Fall Classic. Teammate Liam Hilbert is ranked 29th in the Tully Runners poll. • Sergio Cruz is back hoping hopes to lead Barker back to the state meet in Class D, but look for the Raiders to be pushed by Maple Grove, which hopes to qualify its boys team for the state meet for the first time. The Red Dragons went unbeaten in CCAA, won the Southern Tier Invitational and placed third at McQuaid. Ryan Hetrick is Maple Grove’s top runner, posting times in the 16:20 range. Frank Zuroski and Den Soffel are other top runners for the Red Dragons.
• Maple Grove’s girls haven’t lost a race in six years in CCAA. The Red Dragons rarely lose period, although last year they finished second in the state – breaking a string of three straight Class D championships. Last year’s state Class D race champion Hope Pietrocarlo, a junior, is the only runner left from the team’s last state championship. “She tries to get through to them that the team has some history,” coach Doc Rappole said. “She wants to get another team state title.”