In 2014, East Aurora took home individual and team honors in the New York State cross country championships in both the boys and girls competition in Class C.
In 2015, you could say the exact same thing.
The Blue Devils had another fabulous season this time around, sweeping top honors in the sport. That’s why they are well-represented on the All-Western New York cross country team.
“It was a great year,” said Kenny Vasbinder of East Aurora. “We accomplished a lot again. I think we had the best team we’ve ever had.
“We couldn’t quite pull it off in the regional meet and qualify for nationals. That was the one thing that was a bit of a disappointment. But all and all, we had a great team, and I think we did something special.”
Vasbinder was selected by a panel of coaches as the “Runner of the Year” among boys for the second straight year. The best runner among the girls was Sophia Tasselmyer of East Aurora, who also won that title last year. Walt McLaughlin of East Aurora won boys coach of the year honors, while Marty McLaughlin of the Blue Devils was picked as coach of the year for the girls. The two coaches obviously are doing a lot right together.
“If you ask him, he’ll say he has no secret,” Vasbinder said about Walt McLaughlin. “Honestly, we are passionate about the sport and we want to be good at it.”
Running can be a solitary sport, since no one can be handed the ball when trouble starts. But the team concept, with the group’s encouragement to train hard and run well, is a big part of the attraction of the sport to Vasbinder.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the team,” he said. “If I wasn’t able to run for a good team, I’d be playing soccer right now. There’s no doubt in my mind. It helps you so much that every day you go out with seven guys who basically are willing to give it everything they’ve got, work out really hard. It pushes us hard to be better.”
Both Vasbinder and Tasselmyer won the Section VI championships. Vasbinder took 21st place in the national competition, earning All-American honors. Tasselmyer, who now has three Section VI titles, finished second in the 2013 state meet to just miss three New York titles in a row.
The rest of the East Aurora squad is well represented. Matt McLaughlin and TJ Murray made the first team on the boys squad. McLaughlin graduates in June with three state championships to savor, while Murray is a sectional steeplechase champion.
Connor Doran of Lockport won the individual sectional title in Class A, just ahead of Matthew Mercer of Orchard Park (the Class A sectional champion). Those two runners are on the first team. Mercer is also a champion runner in the steeplechase.
The rest of the boys team is made up of Owen Barber of Allegany-Limestone, Chris Nowak of Sweet Home and Peter Rindfuss of Hamburg. Barber has been a sectional champion in his class in the 800 meters and 1,600 meters in track. Nowak contributed to school records in a relay for the Panthers. Rindfuss won the Section VI individual championship in Class B.
Ryan Hetrick of Maple Grove, the Class D Section VI winner, was a second-team selection.
Among the girls, Tasselmyer has plenty of familiar company on the first team as well. Fiona Danieu, Molly McLaughlin and Maisy Webster of the Blue Devils were all picked. They led East Aurora to a 1-2-3-4-5 sweep of the Section VI final.
Danieu was selected as the senior runner of the year. McLaughlin might be the most improved runner in the region, as the 10th-grader was the only first-team selection this time who wasn’t a first-team, second-team or honorable mention pick last year. Webster finished second in the ECICs to Tasselmyer.
Hope Pietrocarlo of Maple Grove not only won the Class D Section VI title, but led her Red Dragons to a team championship.
Meanwhile, three Section VI champions also made the first team. Katrina Patterson of Clarence (Class A Section VI team champion), Sam Peterman of Sweet Home and Naomi Wistner of Williamsville North. All three will run again next year, and Wistner has three more years of eligibility remaining.
Vasbinder, though, has run his last high school race. He’ll be wearing a Columbia University uniform next fall. That will be a higher level of competition for him, of course, but it’s not as if he has to worry about someone playing defense in cross country.
“I just try to do the same things,” he said when going up against good competition. “There are a lot more people around you when you’re running. You can’t let them determine how you are going to run. You have to run like you’ve been running all year. If it’s been working for you, you just keep it up.”