2016 team champions: Frontier (A), East Aurora (B), Alden (C), Maple Grove (D). Msgr. Martin High School Athletic Association: St. Joe's.
2016 underclassmen individual champions: Section VI Class A -- Grey Conover-10 (Clarence), Section VI Class D -- Michael Peppy-11 (Maple Grove). All-Catholic -- Tom Appenheimer-10 (Cardinal O'Hara).
2016 All-WNY first-team underclassmen: Ryan Buzby-11 (Grand Island), Conover (Clarence), Peppy (Maple Grove), Ian Russ-11 (East Aurora), Ray Sombrotto-10 (West Seneca East).
Tough act to follow: What does Steve Matteson do in his second year as coach of Maple Grove? If he does anything but win a state title with the boys team, it would be a step backwards for the Red Dragons.
Still, Maple Grove seems well equipped to handle the pressure of being defending champions at the sectional and state level. The cast starts with Peppy, who improved greatly during the course of the 2016 season. He'll be followed by Pete Auer, Frank Colburn, and Shane Hetrick. All were first-team All-CCAA Small School last year. Teammate Riley Auer was a second-team in the CCAA. So they are experienced, and they are good. Matteson could have another memorable year.
If Maple Grove slips a little, Falconer seems like the likely team to close the gap. The Falcons have four runners back who were first- or second-team All-CCAA Large School last year: Andrew Young, Collin Barmore, Ben DePerna and Connor Hudson.
Back again: When East Aurora stages graduation next June, it will only seem like every boy went sprinting up the stairs to collect a diploma. The Blue Devils have five seniors ready to roll this season, and that may pay off.
Ian Russ was a definite contender for top honors among cross country runners last season. He ended up as the top junior in Western New York. Russ will be joined by John Lyons, Parker Tent, Jack Watson and Shea Mooney. You might not even notice that Pat Murray and Matt Sieracki have graduated.
Scramble: Often the same faces are on top of the standings in high school sports. That should make the race for top honors in Class A even more delicious.
Yes, Frontier is coming off a championship season, and second-team All-WNY pick Joe Groth and Joshua Peron, the area's top eighth grader in 2016, are around. But Orchard Park had a disappointing end to its season last fall and has something to prove; the Quakers will be led by Cal Puskar. Williamsville North has a good shot at making some noise, with Ken Abrahim ready to compete for All-WNY honors. And Clarence offers junior Grey Conover, the defending individual champion. This will be fun.
In Class C, Wilson and Newfane are 1-2 or 2-1, depending on your viewpoint or loyalties. The Lakemen have a nice one-two punch with William Schwarzmueller and Michael Seeley back. The Panthers have an all-N-O first-teamer in Alan Lingle and a second-teamer in Samuel Auernhamer.
Wipeout: Seven runners were on the first-team All-Catholic squad in 2016. Five of them have graduated. The only survivors are Tom Appenheimer of Cardinal O'Hara - who won All-Catholics last year - and Andrew Michalski of St. Francis. Four of the seven second-teamers are gone, leaving Isaac Ng of Gow, Jake Lanning of St. Francis and Mike Giannadda of St. Joe's. Canisius has a good runner in David Plaff back and a promising newcomer in Lucas Breyer. St. Joe's also expects a good season from Sam Isingoma.
That could make the season an interesting one. The usual rule in the Monsignor Martin Association is: when in doubt, think of St. Joe's. The Marauders always seem to find a way in this sport, but Canisius and St. Francis will be in the argument. It could be a fun year.
Take a guess: Some Buffalo schools are wondering if they'll have enough athletes to form teams this season; that should come into focus on the first day of school.
Interestingly, seven boys were named to the first team for Buffalo Public Schools last year, and six were juniors. City Honors had three in Patrick Sabato, Isaac Tillotson and Adam Vankekhove. Hutch-Tech and Lafayette may surprise.
Preseason rankings: Tullyrunners.com has come up with projections on the state's best teams. Here are the locals listed:
Class A - Williamsville North (No. 17), Frontier (No. 21), Clarence (No. 25), Orchard Park (No. 25); Class B - East Aurora (No. 6); Class C - Wilson (No. 9), Newfane (No. 10); Class D - Maple Grove (No. 1), Falconer (No. 7).
Championship time: Section VI Championships at Bemus Point Golf Club on Nov. 3; State Cross Country Meet on Nov. 11 at Wayne High School (Section V); New York State Federation Meet on Nov. 18 at Bowdoin State Park in Wappingers Falls. The All-Catholic meet will be held on Nov. 5 at the Knox Farm in East Aurora. This is the first year that the sectionals will be at Bemus Point. It's a chance to rotate the location south for a change. The event was held on Grand Island last year.
Who's going to be Prep Talk Player of the Year? Russ was in the conversation last year, but was nosed out in the end. He'll be a strong contender this time. It's not easy for a Class D runner to be in the best in the region, but Peppy will try to make that argument. Conover and Appenheimer may enter the discussion too.