By GIB SNYDER III and STEFAN GESTWICKI
OBSERVER Sports Reporters
When the New York State Cross Country Championships are held Saturday at Elma Meadows, our small corner of the state will be well represented.
The Fredonia Lady Hillbillies will run at the state finals, Saturday. Pictured from left are Lauren Reyda, Michaela Tramuta, Clare Foley, Gwen Stokes, Meredith?Zebracki, Cori Gullo and Jill?Kowalski.
Coach Carol Zirkle has turned the Fredonia Lady Hillbillies into a powerhouse program and they will be making the trip to states for the fifth consecutive year to race in Class C.
"It is so rewarding," Zirkle said, "to see a bunch of athletes who have worked so hard, and worked so hard together with one goal, to see them rewarded for what they've put in. Coach Fitzgerald and I are so proud of how they've improved as athletes and as people."
For Fredonia, one key is depth. From their top runner, sophomore Lauren Reyda, to their seventh runner, the Lady Hillbillies are as good as anyone. Behind Reyda will be Michaela Tramuta, Clare Foley, Meredith Zebracki, Jill Kowalski , Cori Gullo and Gwen Stokes. Emily Wan, Maitland Langworthy and Skylar Salim are the top alternates should illness or injury occur.
Most of the girls have some experience running in the state meet, most notably Reyda and Tramuta, who will each be making their fourth trip.
"I think the difference is the girls with experience know what to expect," Zirkle added. "They can be somewhat less stressed about it. They know what the day is going to be like. They know what kind of competition there's going to be.
"I don't think it's any less special," she continued. "They can focus more on the race part of it. They have a mission to race well."
Zirkle was quick to share the credit for building Fredonia up to what it is now a program that has become the standard in Section 6.
"There are a lot of things that Coach Fitzgerald and I have done as coaches," she admitted. "But it all really started eight or nine years ago with Jack Shwartz. As a student, he got kids running together all summer long.
"We also started a team camp," Zirkle continued. "We can't say enough about summer training. It's essential to anyone who wants to be successful. We also have a large modified team. Without runners in seventh and eighth grade, we wouldn't have runners in high school. We also have a lot of team traditions. Running is a difficult sport. The traditions try to bring some fun into it."
Aside from the summer training programs, solid modified team and team traditions, Zirkle admitted that there is one thing that sets her Lady Hillbillies apart.
"What makes (the program) so successful is our focus isn't on winning," she explained. "Our focus is on being a good person. The kids participate in every meet until Sectionals. We have such a close team because they don't have to compete for playing time. Every kid can be treated equally."
With Fredonia ranked as high as No. 2 in some state polls, Zirkle's goal for the girls is just to perform like they are capable of.
"I'd love to win states," she said with an only half-joking laugh. "I want to see each of the girls run faster than they did last week. I wouldn't want to place any lower than what we're ranked. If every girl goes in and runs a faster time than last week, I'm not going to be disappointed if we come in fourth or fifth.
"We've run some good races," she concluded. "But we still have more in us."
Silver Creek will be sending a pair of runners to the state meet. The pair just happens to be sisters - Hannah and Emma Seiders. For Hannah, who began running for head coach Mike Janisch as a seventh grader, this year's trip to the state meet will be her third in three years since joining the varsity team.
"When Hannah Seiders was a seventh grader, she went to the state meet and was very successful, finishing 12th in the Class D race," Janisch said. "Last year she finished in the middle 20s. But with the merging of some of the schools from Class C, there are some better runners down there and it's going to take a Yeoman's effort on both of the girls to be up under (20th place)."
For Emma, who is an eighth grader that played soccer last fall, but decided to trade in her cleats for a pair of running shoes this year, this will be her first trip to states.
"Emma's just plain sitting on big sister's coattails at the moment, because that's a real good person to work off of," Janisch said. "Emma's not nearly as experienced, but just as enthusiastic. She just wants to go out and do the best that she can. So we're leaving things as simple as possible for her."
Both Hannah and Emma, like the Lady Hillbillies, will have some familiarity with the course, as both ran it last week during the Section 6 meet.
"This is Hannah's sixth time running the course," Janisch said of Hannah. "So she has a pretty good idea of the nuances of the course. And for Emma it will be her second time running and she will take the lead from her big sister."
Experience will be a factor for Hannah, but Janisch noted that experience can be a double-edged sword.
"You know what the competition is, but you also know what the competition is," Janisch said. "So you're able to exploit certain things, but you still have to have respect for whoever else is running the course, because they are the best from their area also."
For Hannah to improve her standing over last year, when she finished in the mid 20s, Janisch noted that she will have to be more aggressive running down hill.
"We've been working on turnover rate and we've been working on trying to get out over her front foot a little bit further, so that she can run the down-hills," Janisch said of Hannah. "She's a very strong girl. She runs the up-hills very well, but we're trying to get her so that she can run the down-hills very effectively."