The Frontier boys cross-country team has moved ahead of the pack in Western New York over the past three seasons, reviving the legacy left by late coach Arsilio Capuani.
From 1973 to 1992, “Cap” guided the Falcons to a 244-68 record, winning eight championships and going undefeated in five of his final six seasons.
“He was just phenomenal,” said Jackie Murzynowski, a Section VI champion in 1985. “He was tough, but we always had winning teams.”
The Falcons continued winning for a few years under different coaches following Capuani’s death from cancer in 1994, but the success slowed down at the turn of the century.
“We went through an extended period where we had one or two decent runners, but we didn’t have strong teams,” said Jim Zubler, who took over the Frontier program in 1996. “We had a lot of turnover in the other varsity coach, and it was very hard to try and build all that on your own.”
Reconnecting with one of Capuani’s disciples put Frontier on the path to restoring its winning tradition.
Murzynowski, a 2014 Western New York Running Hall of Fame inductee who has won a record eight Corporate Challenge races and was The Buffalo News Runner of the Year in 1990-91, laid the foundation with Frontier’s modified program before becoming the second varsity cross-country coach five years ago.
“She completely turned the modified program around, and when we had an opening at the high school, I said, we’ve got to get her up here,” Zubler said. “And that has been the biggest thing. Having somebody else who has the passion and experience that Jackie brings.”
Murzynowski expected it would take three years to build Frontier into a contender. And she was right. In 2016, the Falcons won the Section VI Class A title for the first time since 1999.
After finishing second to Clarence by two points at sectionals last year — “it was crushing to lose by so little,” Zubler said — Frontier enters Friday’s Section VI Championships at Bemus Point Golf Course ranked No. 1 among Western New York large schools and 19th in the state in Class A.
“I’m so happy and proud to be a part of it,” Murzynowski said. “The kids know that it was a great program and we are building it back to where we were. It’s nice to see that we are up there again.”
Sophomore Josh Peron has set the pace for Frontier. He won the individual championship and led Frontier to the overall team title at last week’s ECIC meet.
“He’s an animal,” junior Brian Gleason said. “He’s so young and he has so much potential. None of us are surprised.”
Peron was part of Frontier’s sectional championship team as an eighth-grader. As a freshman, he qualified for states in cross-country, indoor and outdoor track. He was the only freshman in the 400-meter hurdles final at the outdoor state meet.
“Josh is definitely going to be a D-1 runner, probably a full ride,” said Murzynowski, who was a captain at Murray State University. “He’s a multitalented athlete. He can do cross-country, then go to indoor and outdoor track. Anything we put him in, he does well.”
Frontier has had the Western New York freshman runner of the year the past three seasons in Peron, Gleason and senior Joe Groth, who will run next year for Division II Mercyhurst University.
Along with junior Alex Monaco, Frontier knew it had a solid top four heading into this season but needed to find a fifth runner to replace the graduated Fridrik Diehl.
Murzynowski started in March recruiting Connor O’Brien, a track runner who teamed with Peron, Diehl and Groth to win the 3,200 relay at the Section VI outdoor championships, off the soccer team.
“I wanted to do cross country because I know everyone on the team and it’s a great atmosphere to be around,” O’Brien said. “At the same time, I’ve played soccer all my life. It was a tough choice, but I’m glad I made it.”
O’Brien started with the soccer team this fall before detouring to cross-country two weeks into the season. He placed 12th out of 154 competitors in his first meet, the Red Dragon Invitational at Bemus Point, and emerged as the Falcons’ No. 2 runner as the season wore one, finishing sixth at ECICs.
“It’s been an amazing boost for the team,” Peron said. “Connor is a big part of the outdoor track team and just continuing into the cross-country team, he’s an amazing runner. I can’t wait to see what he does next year.”
O’Brien’s addition gave the Falcons crucial depth in team scoring events, to go along with one of the section’s top runners in Peron.
“This is the best team I’ve been on in my four years,” Gleason said.
Senior Noah Lepsch said, “If I ran in any other program, I’d be their No. 1 or 2 guy. But here I’m seventh. I’m just lucky and fortunate to run with these guys.”
The Falcons are confident they can reclaim the sectional crown but aren’t overlooking the competition.
“We are constantly telling them any team can win on any given day,” Zubler said. “They are aware of that. But their goal from day one has been to get to the state meet.”
And for the Falcons who have ran at states before, the goal is to improve on their sixth-place finish in 2016.
“For that group of kids, that was the first time any of them had ever been to a state championship,” Zubler said. “It was a bit overwhelming. Now, they know what it’s all about. They’ve been there, and it makes a world of difference when you go a second time.”