There's a youth movement underway within the Niagara Falls boys cross country program.
Eighth-grader Ryan Janese has paced head coach Izzy Martinez's Wolverines this season, helping them to a 5-2 record in Niagara Frontier League meets entering Saturday's championship.
Janese is in his first year of varsity competition after spending his seventh-grade campaign on the junior varsity. Usually, for young male runners, it takes a little time to adjust to varsity competition, in addition to battling seniors and juniors on the course.
Those rookie lumps haven’t been so bad, though, as Janese has turned heads around the league in his first season.
In three of four tri-meets this season, Janese finished second. He won his first tri-meet versus Lewiston-Porter. At the East Aurora Invitational, Janese finished 22nd with a time of 17:38 and was the youngest runner in the top 25. At the McQuaid Invitational, Janese finished with a time of 17:42. Both invitationals were 3-mile races.
Recently, Janese finished ninth in the Sunset Stampede with a time of 18:09. The race included runners from 19 different schools in a 3.1-mile trek.
The success has surprised even Martinez, who said he can’t remember the last time an eighth-grader has had the success Janese has.
“I’ve been here for 33 years and I can’t remember ever having an eighth-grader with the potential to be an NFL all star, and I mean first-team all star,” Martinez said. “Right now, in our league, he’s only lost to three boys, which would put him as the fourth-best kid in the league. And, again, there’s potential for kids to catch him, but there’s also potential for him to catch the other kids ahead of him.”
For Janese, running was something he kind of just picked up at random.
Every year, the Niagara Falls City School District hosts a 1-mile run for its elementary students. It was at this event, Janese, as a Maple Avenue student, discovered a skill he never knew he had.
“In sixth grade, I did the mile run and took second place in that and just discovered an unknown talent in running,” Janese said.
For any youngster coming to the varsity squad, there could be a sense of intimidation when they see the upperclassmen. Martinez felt Janese stepped right in with no intimidation, aided by an athletic background.
“He wasn’t intimidated and I think it’s because he plays sports like hockey and lacrosse, which are very physical,” Martinez said. “To him, you put a number on him and it’s go time, so to speak. He really is a competitor.”
For Janese, though, there were some admitted nerves.
“Yeah, just because there’s a lot of seniors at the top and I was just trying to stay with them,” he said with a chuckle.
Janese credits his success to those other sports he plays. Hockey and lacrosse both require a lot of endurance.
“Those both help with endurance and it goes a long way in, pretty much, any sport you play. Both of those sports got me stronger and my legs stronger to build off this sport,” Janese said.
Playing additional sports, Martinez believes, is crucial to any athlete’s success.
“A well-rounded athlete is the best kind of athlete. I’m not big on the guys who specialize, because that can lead to a dull existence in high school. You wanna get involved in other sports. Back when I was a wrestling coach, I pushed my kids to do other things and it’s the same thing with my distance runners. So to me, it’s important to be well-rounded,” Martinez said.
Moving forward, Martinez said the sky is the limit for Janese, who has four more varsity seasons ahead of him. Martinez said could see Janese eventually being a “15-minute guy.” But, first, the next endeavor for Janese is the NFL meet Saturday at Beaver Island. The eighth-grader said his goal for the meet is to try and catch the guys he has lost to and hopefully finish top-three.