Dates to remember: Saturday - Team Championships, Houghton College; Feb. 11 and 18 ... Varsity Select Meets, Lancaster Field House and Fredonia State College respectively; Feb. 25 ... State Qualifier Championship, Houghton College; March 3 & 4 ... NYSPHSAA/Federation Championships, Ocean Breeze Sports Complex in Staten Island.
Returning Section VI champions, boys: Roshain Wallace, Niagara Falls, 55-meter high hurdles; Joe Frailey, Grand Island, 600 meters; Tariq Taul, Niagara Falls, high jump.
Returning Section VI champions, girls: Jenna Crean, Orchard Park, 300 meters; Emma Seiders, Dunkirk/Silver Creek, 600 meters; Amberlee Robertson, Williamsville South, 1,000 meters; Sam Peterman, Sweet Home, 1,500 meters; Katrina Patterson, Clarence, 3,000 meters; Olivia Gervan, Lancaster, high jump; Gabrielle Gayden, Williamsville North, pole vault; Emily Marchitte, West Seneca West, long jump and triple jump; Brianna McKenzie, Lancaster, weight throw.
New home: The state championships have moved from Ithaca to Staten Island, as the $93 million Ocean Breeze complex will host the event. Ocean Breeze needed no time at all to become a magnet for indoor track and field since it opened in 2015. For example, the Big East, Northeast and East Coast Conferences will hold their indoor track championships there in the next few weeks. In addition, the USATF Hershey National Youth Championship will be staged there from March 10-12.
In addition, the facility has workout facilities for athletes. Vicki Mitchell, track/cross country coach at the University at Buffalo, said some of her athletes from that area buy short-term memberships to use the facilities during vacation breaks.
Growth spurt: The number of teams in Section VI is around 35 now, up from 28 about a decade ago. That includes a few Catholic schools who take part in local meets. Most of the big schools offer indoor track, and a few smaller school districts like Dunkirk and Silver Creek have teamed up. The schools in the middle sometimes fear addinbg indoor track will draw athletes away from sports such as basketball and wrestling.
Dan Syracuse, coach at Williamsville South, says he has about 55 athletes on his team. Much of the growth in that area has come from the number of girls participating.
Good teams: On the boys side, the top programs continue to churn out good athletes. Lancaster of Class A has some state qualifiers in field events like the pole vault (Carson Valley), shot put (John Surdel and Paul Kemsley) and weight throw (Kemsley) and is strong overall. Niagara Falls usually is good in sprints and relays, and Taul and Wallace lead the way this year. Sweet Home of Class B has some top distance runners, while Cheektowaga has some good athletes as well and is considered a very good Class C team.
For the girls, balance is the key word. Lancaster looks good in Class A. No one dominates an event like McKenzie, who has a 54-5 weight throw to her credit - almost 10 feet more than anyone else. Marchitte of West Seneca West is a top triple jumper. Sweet Home, Amherst, and Williamsville South are all in the argument in Class B. In Class C, Tapestry always has some good sprinters, and Nia Stevens and Taylor Hunter are following in that tradition. Dunkirk/Silver Creek has some talent as well.
Qualifying for the states: The first two finishers from Section VI automatically go to Staten Island. The third-place finisher in a given event also qualifies, provided he or she has met the standard for participation. For example, that's 21 feet, 6 inches in the long jump. Five local athletes already have hit that distance this season.
The Prep Talk Athlete of the Year candidates: It would seem a two-man race among the boys, as serious competition arrives when the calendar flips to February. Chris Nowak of Sweet Home has the area's best times in the 600 meters, the 1,000 meters, and the 1,600 meters. However, Nathaniel Davis of Sweet Home is WNY's best in the triple jump, long jump, and 300-meter dash. The winner probably will be determined by performances in the state championships.
Crean of Orchard Park looks like the favorite among girls. She's picked up from 2016, when she broke the Section VI record in the 300 meters (39.20). Crean is the area's fastest runner this year in the 55-meter dash (7:19) and the 300-meter run (39.62). The sophomore has a chance to make some noise at the state meet, especially in the 300.