BEMUS POINT — Armani Merlino had to split his concentration between two things: running a 3.1-mile race and hanging onto his timing chip.
About a mile and a half into the Section VI Class A boys cross country championship race, the Lancaster senior noticed his right shoe becoming loose.
“Instead of the chip being right next to my shoe, it was hanging off the laces halfway,” Merlino said. “I was just worried through most of the race about losing it."
Merlino had a safeguard: each runner wears two timing chips, the other is attached to the bib that displays his number. The timing chip on the shoe somehow remained attached as Merlino won the Class A individual championship in 16 minutes, 25.83 seconds.
“When I finished I was like, ‘Where is it, where is it?’ " Merlino said. "But it was on the bottom of my shoe, punctured through one of my spikes.”
Merlino was one of four individual winners in the Section VI boys cross country championships Friday at Bemus Point Golf Course, and advances to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships Nov. 10 at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park on Long Island.
Behind Merlino, a cadre of runners from Orchard Park and Frontier crossed the finish line in pursuit of the Class A team championship. A few minutes later, as the Class A race ended, a roar came up from a group of runners from Frontier. They just found out they’d won the Class A title, a year after finishing second to Clarence by a margin of two points.
Frontier scored 42 points, ahead of Clarence (54) and Orchard Park (68) in the 13-team field, with the help of four runners in the top 10: Joshua Peron (second), Joey Groth (fifth), Brian Gleason (seventh) and Connor O’Brien (ninth).
“It’s all about knowing who your competition is, and our kids making sure they’re able to be in front of the kids they needed to beat on the other teams, to make sure they won,” Frontier coach Jim Zubler said. “Our No. 1 (runner) knew where he needed to be, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5, compared to the other teams in the race. And it wasn’t just looking at one team. They’re very conscious of all the teams in that race.”
Pioneer won the Class B team championship, Newfane Central won the Class C championship and Maple Grove won the Class D title.
Lewiston-Porter’s Andrew Perreault won the Class B boys title in 16:55.49, three days after he finished the season with the Lancers’ boys soccer team.
Perreault played soccer and ran cross country this fall, so his conditioning wasn’t in doubt. He finished the race about 13 seconds ahead of Sweet Home’s Ray Sambrotto (17:08.16)
“All summer long, we’d have dual practices a day for soccer, so I’d go from morning soccer practice, to middle of the day cross country practice to evening soccer,” said Perreault, who missed only one cross country race this year, while playing in 20 soccer games. “I was putting in a lot of miles early in the season, and I honestly think it helped me.”
Austin Burkard of Newfane won the closest race of the day in 17:09.26, edging out Kyle Urban of Alden (17:10.14) in the final 600 meters to win the Class C individual title.
Burkard said he couldn’t create much separation on the course against Urban, whom he raced for the first time.
“It was tough because I was thinking he was going to beat me a lot of the time, and I thought at one point, he was going to pass me and gain a really far lead and I wouldn’t be able to catch up.” Burkard said. “The final 300 meters was painful. I was sprinting as hard as I could, and I thought he was going to catch me.”
Pete Auer of Maple Grove opened his lead on Ronan McDonald of Randolph late in the first mile, en route to winning the Class D boys title in 16:54.56, nearly 18 seconds ahead of McDonald (17:12.04).
Auer won the fifth race between the two this season; Auer and McDonald each won two races before competing against each other for the Section VI championship.
“I know where he likes to make his move on mile 2, and he does a really good job of it,” Auer said. “Instead of waiting for him to do it, I decided to take matters into my own hands and take the head of the race and make a big push.”