Crossing the muddy finish line at East Aurora High School on Saturday, Megan McLaughlin reached a rite of passage in her household.
McLaughlin, an East Aurora freshman, won the ECIC cross country championship with a 5K time of 18:38.47, following a trail set by her older siblings Marta, Matt and Molly, who are all now running for Grand Valley State University in Michigan.
“It’s definitely really special and unique knowing that all my siblings have gone through this before,” Megan McLaughlin said. “They set the standard that I’m just chasing after what they’ve done.”
As an eighth-grader, Megan placed second running alongside sister Molly at both ECICs and the Class B sectional race.
This year, McLaughlin finished more than 43 seconds faster than runner-up Karis Ertel, her East Aurora teammate.
“Megan has really worked hard to follow in the footsteps of her sisters Marta and Molly but has worked harder to be a strong leader for her squad,” said her father Walt McLaughlin, the Blue Devils coach.
East Aurora, ranked No. 1 among WNY large schools and No. 2 in the state in Class B, claimed its 18th division title and regained the overall ECIC championship from last year’s winner West Seneca West in the 24-team event.
“It’s exciting to get the first postseason win in the books,” Megan McLaughlin said. “As a team, we definitely want to win sectionals and hopefully at states, we can move up and get first.”
In the boys race, Frontier sophomore Josh Peron passed Lancaster senior Armani Merlino in the final 800 meters to win with a time of 16:14.76 and lead the Falcons, ranked No. 1 in WNY and 13th in the state in Class A, to their second ECIC championship in three years.
Merlino had beaten Peron, his roommate on the trip to states last year, in a dual meet and at the East Aurora Invitational earlier this season.
“We’ve really become friends,” Merlino said. “He’s a really talented guy. I wish I wasn’t two years older than him so I could see how he develops the next two years.”
Peron, a sectional champion in the 400-meter hurdles, let Merlino set the pace for much of the race before making his move in the homestretch and winning a sprint to the finish by 3.7 seconds.
“That was a track finish,” Peron said. “It hurt. I was putting it all out there. It feels really good to get a win against Armani and it gives me energy going into sectionals next week.”
Steady rain made for difficult terrain and prevented the top runners from challenging their personal-best times.
“It was really hard to get footing,” Peron said. “My shoes were filled with water, very heavy. I slipped around a lot and my foot sunk in the mud. A lot of energy went into just pulling your foot up again.”
The conditions gave East Aurora runners an edge on their home course.
“We’re always ready for this type of thing,” Megan McLaughlin said. “The crappy weather, the rain, the mud, that’s kind of our strong point. We were ready to go out and do our thing.”
Along with the 1-2 finish for East Aurora, eight-grader Samantha Hulme placed ninth, Maggie McLaughlin, a junior, and sophomore Geneva Green were in the top 17.
“It’s not our first ECIC win but it does mean a lot to keep doing this together,” said Ertel, a junior who placed in the top five for a second straight year.
The East Aurora boys, ranked No. 2 in WNY and third in the state in Class B, won the ECIC III division title and placed fifth overall, behind Frontier, Orchard Park, Pioneer-Holland and Lancaster.
Led by Peron, champion Frontier scored a seventh-place finish from Connor O’Brien, a junior who switched from soccer to cross country two weeks into the season, while senior Joey Groth and juniors Alex Monaco and Brian Gleason were among the top 31 in the 212-runner field.
The other division champions were: West Seneca West girls (ECIC I), Hamburg girls (ECIC II), Alden girls (ECIC IV), Pioneer-Holland boys (ECIC II) and Alden boys (ECIC IV).