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Cleve Hill relay earns championship immortality; Surdej and Russ also claim state titles

CICERO -- Cleveland Hill's Aaron Wahler, Chris Diem, D'Mario Grant and Javon Thomas earned two things they coveted most by simply winning Friday afternoon at Cicero-North Syracuse.

Jon Surdej extended the tradition of success for Lancaster's throwers by doing the same. Ian Russ didn't break 9 minutes in the 3,200 but was happy nonetheless because he earned the right to be called a champion.

They were the big winners as Day One of the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association boys track and field championship meet is in the books.

Western New York's athletes performed admirably before a crowd of more than 4,000 at the annual event that determines the best of the best in the state among public schools as well as Catholic and New York City schools. Three state champions and a couple close calls – not a bad day.

The meet resumes Saturday morning with the championship heats for sprint events and then morphs into the Federation meet where the overall champions in state in various events will be determined.

Cleveland Hill's 4x100 relay team of Wahler, Diem, Grant and Thomas flirted with qualification for the Federation 4x100 relay Saturday against the top Division I and non-public schools.

However the Golden Eagles crew will have to be satisfied with the rewards they earned for their hard work all season. The team featuring three juniors and a sophomore earned the Division II (small schools) state championship – claiming the crown in 43 seconds flat. By virtue of winning the state title, the foursome earned a spot on the school's wall of fame commemorating state champions.

The crew is the third 4x100 relay to earn a spot on the wall.

That achievement was reason enough for Thomas to celebrate with a backflip, as the crew dressed in matching Fourth of July red, white and blue headbands and socks basked in the euphoria of being a champion. The four also enjoyed knowing that whenever they pass the wall in school they will be reminded of this achievement.

"Every athlete has one goal at Cleve Hill. It's to make that wall," said Wahler, who walks by it every day. "This is just a crazy feeling, especially doing it as an underclassman."

"I cannot explain it," Thomas said. "Coach Graham has been preaching this from the beginning. … We did it!"

So too did Surdej, who is the latest protégé of Lancaster throwing coach George Rak to win a state championship.

Surdej uncorked his winning distance of 58 feet, 7 inches on his fifth of six throws. He had just surged ahead of runner-up Jake McPherson of Rush-Henrietta on his previous toss of 56-8.25.

"I enjoy being my coach's 37th state champion (boys and girls) in 11 years," said Surdej, who placed fourth in outdoor states last year and won the indoor state shot put title. "It's just nice to keep in the tradition."

"We just have a really good coach who always tries to help us understand and develop. I joined in eighth grade so I was able to get a step ahead."

Teammate Andy Pietrantoni took third in the shot (51-4).

"We just work hard," Rak said. "We work hard every day. This is our goal every year, to win a state championship."

Russ posted a winning time of 9:13.39. He said starting out slower instead of at a faster pace helped, along with being in the top heat instead of the slower one.

"Last year I was first out in the slowest heat and I thought that inhibited my race," Russ said. "Being in the fast heat this year was definitely beneficial. It feels great. I've been working all year to come back and get the win this year."

Sweet Home's 4x100 relay, the defending state champions, placed third coming out of the slower of the two championship heats but qualified for the must-see Federation 4x100 on Saturday. The crew of Anthony Williams, Thomas Rivera, Kyle Durwald and Nate Davis posted a 42.43 to qualify for Fed.

Others who earned spots on the podium from Division I are Lockport's Malik Brooks, who took fourth in the 400 and Davis finished sixth in the long jump. Grand Island's Ryan Buzby placed sixth in the 3,200.

In Division II, Cheektowaga's Seth Conner placed second in the 400, defending state triple jump champion Shevaughn Allen of JFK placed third in that event along with the long jump, Allegany-Limestone's Michael Wolfgang took sixth in the 110 hurdles and watched teammate Liam Coulter finish sixth in the 400, while Cheektowaga's 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams also reached the podium. The 4x100 of Alek Bryant, JaQuan Pugh, CJ Krzanowicz and Robert Bragg  placed fifth. Bragg, Conner, Noah Williams and Seth Fonda finished sixth in the 4x400 and Maple Grove's Michael Peppy finished sixth in the 3,200.

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