High school cross country runners throughout Western New York compete against more than their competitors. They're competing against the clock — their own personal clock.
The “PR” or Personal Record (personal best time) is one of the most commonly-used athletic acronyms today on the scholastic level, involving sports that include track & field, swimming and cross country.
This fall's cross country season got into full swing on Saturday with the annual McQuaid Invitational in Rochester, which annually attracts hundreds of runners from throughout Sections V and VI and well beyond.
Local runners fared well, including the Niagara Frontier League's top-ranked runner, Lockport junior Sydney Nowicki, who is currently ranked 18th in New York State among all runners and is 12th in Class A.
“She's a top 20 runner in the state again this year. It's right where she was last year,” veteran Lions cross country coach Tim Willett said on Friday. “Before McQuaid, she only had one, 5K race under her belt so far this season. The McQuaid is three miles and we were excited and looking forward to it.”
Nowicki finished 15th in last year's state finals after capturing both her second straight Section VI and NFL titles. Among her goals this season is a top 10 finish at states. She opened the season Saturday by placing 17th in the girls' large school seeded race at the McQuaid invite.
“This year, we've been upping our mileage, so instead of 35 I've been getting up to 50 miles per week. Sometimes, we've been waking up before school and running just so we can get the mileage in,” said the highly-recruited Nowicki.
“Last year my goal was breaking 18 (minutes), but I came pretty close and didn't so obviously that's the first goal. The second goal is to qualify for the Nike Nationals again.”
The Lady Lions will also be led in 2019 by junior Emma Cain, who was a top 10 finisher at NFLs a year ago.Emma said her goal is another top 10 at NFLs and breaking 20 minutes in the 5K.
Besides Lockport, which shared the NFL girls' team title last year with Kenmore West, other top teams in the NFL will include Grand Island and Niagara-Wheatfield.
Head coach Jason Bibler's Lady Vikings will be led by super sophomore Riley Joseph, who is ranked 85th in the state among Class B runners; and fellow 10th grader Faith Caldwell, also a top-100 harrier in NYS. Caldwell finished fourth at NFLs last year and Joseph was seventh.
The Lady Falcons will be led by senior Victoria Hughes, who was second at the NFL championships last year at Beaver Island State Park. Other top N-W runners this fall will include freshman Amanda Snowberger, junior Sarah Pawlow and eighth grader Alexis Bissell. The Lady Falcons are also expected to be strong, after having last spring's NFL outdoor track championship.
Among other top female runners in the NFL this season will include Niagara Falls' senior Julianna Bouton, who was third at NFLs in 2018, as well as Lady Wolverines senior Molly Chiarella and NFHS junior Abigail Dusher and sophomore Madison Vekich. Ken West also returns two top 10 NFL runners from a year ago, junior Lily Holden and eighth grader Madeline Frank.
Head coach Jen Raby's Lewiston-Porter Lancers will be among Lockport's boys chief rivals in 2019, with the two teams sharing the NFL title last year and returning the nucleus of their starting line-ups.
Leading the Lancers is returning junior Justin Pavan, ranked 80th in the entire state in Class B. Pavan was third at last year's NFLs and LHS sophomore Jackson Doran (now a junior) was second. Pavan and senior Ben Wisto (7th at NFLs in 2018, ranked this year among state's top 100 Class B runners) are co-captains at Lew-Port. Another top runner at Lew-Port is senior Cole Acetta (9th at NFLs in 2018).
“I'm excited about this season, especially for the seniors on this team,” coach Raby said. “This is my third year as head coach so I've been with this group from the beginning. It will be bitter sweet to see them go, but I'm excited to see them compete in their senior seasons.”
Lew-Port was the NFL championship alone in 2017 under coach Raby and they shared the title last year with Lockport, giving the green and white back-to-back championships. Coach Raby is assisted by Nick Bonarek.
Besides Doran, the Lions return at least two more top-ranked state runners in seniors Owen White (4th at 2018 NFLs) and Lucas Powley (6th at 2018 NFLs).
Coach Willett said however this season plays out in the NFL and Section VI, PRs won't occur every race — even ones of exact lengths — for a simple reason.
“Every course is different,” Willett said. “Sometimes if you don't have anyone strong within your field, it's tough, so you go run your hardest and see what happens. It's not always about time. It might be about controlling the first mile, or working on certain spots in the race or setting a pace that's slower than the race pace. Sydney can sometimes do a workout right through a race — and on a local level she can still pull off a win.”
Among other top NFL harriers to watch out for this year include GI sophomore Victor Fritsch, N-W senior Aidan McNamara, Ken East junior Justice Ramsey, Ken West junior Charlie Connors and Niagara Falls senior Cameron Gardner.
If you're feeling blue thinking about N-O harriers this fall, you don't need to see a doctor because most experts agree that Newfane's boys and girls team will be strong once again in 2019.
Head coach Mike Heitzenrater's royal blue and white Panthers were spectacular in 2018, earning fourth (girls) and fifth-place (boys) team finishes in the NYS small-school finals.
The four-time league champion Lady Panthers lost their top-gun, Kim Goerss, as well as top-100 runner Nina Burkard to graduation, but they return another solid core led by seniors Vanessa Burkard (25th at McQuaid)and Lydia Chunco, freshman Catalena Ersing (27th at McQuaid), junior Marina Ersing and sophomore Leah Siegmann. Goerss was the first-place finisher on the Section VI Class C team a year ago at states.
The Lady Panthers placed first Saturday in McQuaid's Small School (Class C) Seeded race. The boys were third.
Newfane's repeat-champion boys will be led this year by defending N-O champion sophomore Austin Burkard (21st at states), junior Nick Baes (8th at N-Os), senior Alan Lingle (6th at N-Os), sophomores Connor and Andrew Cuzzacrea (13th and 14th at N-Os)and senior Nathan Moran (11th at N-Os last year), who was 24th at the McQuaid invite.
The top-ranked N-O boys runner in the state right now (17th) in Class C is Roy-Hart senior Ozzy Moore (11th at McQuaid), who's already off and running with a league, first-place finish under his belt. Other Rans runners to watch out for this year include senior Will Rickard and junior Jay Heideman.
The Lady Rams are also solid, led by senior Anna Rickard, who placed second at the N-O championships a year ago at Lakeside Beach State Park. Among other R-H runners are senior Kennedy Lang.
Up by the lake, Wilson returns several top runners, led by senior Jonathan Moote (8th at McQuaid), who already has a league race win under his belt, and Alex Martinez. Returners for the Lakewomen include freshman Cassidy Wagner (89th at McQuaid) and junior Kylee Healy (103rd at McQuaid).
Head coach Brett Sippel's Lakewomen also include Jen Reagan on the girls side and Alex Martinez (85th at McQuaid), Al Schultz (97th at McQuaid) and Cam Guy (131st at McQuaid).
Also by the lake is head coach Paul DerSarkissian's Barker Raiders, who swept their league-opening meet last week against Wilson with another large roster (30) to mentor at one of the state's smallest high schools. The Raiders placed fourth among small schools at the annual McQuaid Invitational.
Raiders senior Peter DiLorenzo was second in the opening meet and 12th at McQuaid, placing second at the N-O championships in 2018. DiLorenzo is ranked 23rd in NYS in Class D.
“He's my third-year guy — All-State last year,” DerSarkissian said. “He's looking to go back to the state meet (19th individual finish overall in Class D). He's been running superbly so far and been in the 17s all three races. So far he's doing well.”
Other top Barker boys runners include freshmen Mason Allee-Castro and Dawson Donovan and junior Nick Guevara, who's already posted a PR this year.
Barker senior Haleigh Mason (17th at N-Os and 18th at McQuaid) and freshman Lydia Samson (16th at N-Os) last year, 27th at McQuaid) finished 1-2 in their win over Wilson.