MIDDLETOWN — Section VI made sure to put its stamp on this year's New York State Public High School Athletic Association track and field championships.
Several local athletes were able to medal during the two-day event, which concluded Saturday at Middletown High School. Once again, the Lockport Lions came to roar, this time on the state's biggest stage.
Lockport senior Malik Brooks was at it again, taking second place in the boys 400-meter Federation finals and anchoring his team of Collin Thompson, Tranx Caubang and Herman Aalberg to a sixth-place finish in the Federation run of the 4x400-meter relay. Lockport sophomores Sydney Nowicki and Kahniya James both medaled by placing eighth in the Fed girls 1500-meter and the 100-meter championships, respectively.
Head coach Tim Willet was delighted by the weekend overall and was pleasantly surprised by the results of the 4x400-meter relay team, which was slotted as the lowest seed entering the championship heat.
"They really weren't supposed to be in this spot," Willet said. "To run like they did yesterday, that was the second fastest 4x400 we've had in school history. Then come back today and finish sixth in the Federation, so that's awesome.
"Then, (I'm) just thinking about Malik individually and what he was able to do with the amount of races that he had to do this weekend. And still to be able to keep coming back and really giving it all for himself, for his team."
Willett heaped many praises at the feet of his coaching staff, including distance coach Pat Seidel, throwing coach Matt Vermette and assistant jumpers coach Danny Barrancotta. He also took the time to highlight sprinting coach Miles Patterson, who has helped Willett's seamless transition into the head coaching role after being in that position for many years.
"We all work with all of the kids," Willett said. "But what he's done with our sprint program, since day 1, has been phenomenal. That's why we're here and what we're doing. It takes a group effort, for sure. But, there's no one else like him and I'm extremely happy and we're fortunate that we have him around ... being up there with him the last four years has been awesome."
Willett already has his gears turning as to what type of relays and overall team he can put together for next year, considering having so many sophomore state meet competitors like James, Nowicki and Thompson.
Nowicki was very reflective on this moment and was excited to accomplish what she did, despite not necessarily living up to her own personal expectations.
"I'm very happy with my performance. It was kind of like a far away goal," Nowicki said. "It was kind of a joke, kind of not, 'Let's see if we can podium from the first heat.' ... I have nationals next week, but I wanted to make the season (at states) end on a high note.
"... I kind of do this for myself, to be honest. ... It's been going wrong more than right this season, this whole year. But (today) really, it goes back and it shows how hard I've been working in the early mornings, getting sleep, going to bed at an early time, eating the right foods, just being dedicated."
Nowicki will be running in the 5k at next weekend's New Balance Nationals track and field meet, while Brooks plans to run in the boys open 400-meter and plans on putting together some relay teams for the event.
Another group of athletes that has punched its ticket to nationals is Lewiston-Porter's 4x800-meter relay team. Andrew Perreault, Miguel Bautista, Corey Stack and Cole Accetta may have missed out on medaling in the Federation by .13 seconds, but their efforts weren't for naught as they broke their school record with a time of 7:55.78 after narrowly missing last season.
"It was a goal of ours (to make the national track meet) from the beginning of last season when we saw all four of us came together," Perreault said. "We knew how close we were last year. So coming into this season that was a big goal, to break (the 8 minute mark) and hit the time. So we're pretty happy that we got to do it today, especially after last year. We came here and didn't do our best. So we used what we learned from last year and took it in with us this week and did good today."
"We weren't really sure about getting our time," Bautistia said. "We were running 8:13, 8:03s all year. But we really pulled it together as a team. We didn't want this to be our final race, me and Andrew (being) seniors. We just pulled it together with my bros."
Starpoint's Kiara McDowell handled things in the field for Section VI, placing third overall in the Federation girls discus throw. The senior set a new school record with a throw of 135 feet, 10 inches. McDowell will be continuing her fantastic field career at the next level, as she plans to throw for Niagara University.
One other local track star to medal was Newfane's Reese Casinelli, who took sixth place in the Federation 400-meter run. The Division II (small schools) state champion was proud of his accomplishment but did not want to take all of the credit for reaching this point.
"I think I had an all-around really good weekend," Casinelli said. "I just tried to keep my poise in the 400-meter this season and just attack it all season long. Without my great coaching staff and all my teammates, this isn't possible. So I've gotta give a huge shoutout to them and thank you to all of the people who have supported me along the way."
Casinelli also talked about what it was like being able to be in a group of athletes that really put on a show from Section VI.
"It's great to keep representing Section VI. It's a tough division to compete in and I think that's helped me to get where I am today," he said.
Casinelli plans to attend Erie Community College in the fall, where he will get some courses together before he pursues running for the University at Buffalo.
Other local athletes taking place in Saturday's action were girls high jumpers Le'Gary Jackson (Niagara Wheatfield) and Kali Scharping (Royalton-Hartland). Jackson and Scharping had respective finishes of 12th and 36th place in the high jump championship. Newfane's Kimberly Goerss also took 24th overall in the girls 2000-meter steeplechase.
The New Balance Nationals track and field meet will take place next June 13-16 at North Carolina A&T State in Greensboro, N.C. Due to some athletes needing to fill out an entry to be approved for the event, it is unclear exactly how many local kids will be taking part in the meet.