Hard work kept runners on right path

Five local high schoolers head out of town for state cross country finals

OBSERVER Photo by M.J. Stafford High school cross country athletes pose Friday before boarding a charter bus to the Rochester area for the state cross country championship meet scheduled for today. From left are Jaylah Cossin of Silver Creek, Emily Brown of Fredonia, Gowanda’s Lyle Warrior and Fredonia’s Josh Johnson and Diego Rey.

With temperatures expected to be around freezing, the five area athletes running at the state cross country championship meet today will have to do some things they are used to doing: Work hard, persevere, adapt and keep a positive attitude.

Fredonia’s Emily Brown, Josh Johnson and Diego Rey, along with Gowanda’s Lyle Warrior and Silver Creek’s Jaylah Cossin, boarded a chartered bus at Wal-Mart Friday bound for Wayne High School, the Rochester-area site of today’s race.

“It could be an interesting race … I know I’m going to dig out all my cold-weather gear,” Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle said earlier in the week.

The Hillbillies coach said the frigid environment “makes the warmup more critical than normal.”

“Getting out there for extra time and getting the body prepared to race in the temperature will be tough on them, but critical,” she said. “It’s just going to make it logistically more challenging but we know what needs to be done. We’ve had cross country races we’ve had to worry about heat index, this is the first one we’ve had to worry about wind chill index.”Zirkle concluded, “I know I’m going to get 100 percent effort (from the runners) when they step on the course, and they’re going to run well.”

That’s the sort of thing she’s used to from Brown, Johnson and Rey.

“Emily is the hardest worker I’ve ever coached,” the Fredonia coach said of Brown, a sophomore, who is making her second trip to states. “She gives 100 percent every day. She is very much into the sport of cross country, she looks up information all the time. She knows all of the runners in the state, their times, the schools they’re from … she knows different race strategies.

“She’s enthusiastic and has a bubbly personality,” Zirkle continued, noting that Brown started running varsity cross country in the seventh grade and was the team’s manager as a sixth-grader. “She’s very concerned with being the best runner she can be and she does all of the little things you need to do to make that work.”

Unlike Brown and Rey, Johnson is new to cross-country — this is the senior’s first season on Fredonia’s varsity team.

“It’s truly amazing what he’s accomplished for a first year runner,” Zirkle said. “He’s really into learning, he asks questions all the time, he researches stuff, he looks things up on the running website.”

Johnson had had some success in the spring track and field events, and the Fredonia cross country team — including Rey, a close friend — pushed him to join their squad this season.

“They knew he would make the team much better with how hard he works,” Zirkle said. “He has a great personality and is a great leader, he helps the younger kids and makes them understand what’s going on. He did a great job with them in summer workouts.”

Zirkle said Johnson helped push Rey, a junior, into better performances, which paid off in their first appearances at states for both of them.

“The two of them working together and pushing each other … they have to work very hard to beat their teammate,” she said. “They are good friends but they can pull and push each other along to reach their bests. They have to work their tails to beat each other in practice and in races. They’ve reached heights that I don’t know they would have reached without the training partners they have in each other.

“Diego has had this goal a couple years,” Zirkle said. “He really watches what he eats, he gets more sleep than his peers. He trains year round … he’s just very coachable. He’s got a great work ethic. He does what we ask him to do and does it well.”

Friday’s bus trip also represented the achievement of a long-held goal for Warrior, a senior who has run on Gowanda’s varsity squad since he was a freshman and is now the team captain. According to his coach, Tim O’Donnell, he should have made states last season.

“During the first half mile (of the Section 6 qualifier for states), someone clipped the back of his shoe,” O’Donnell said. “Being with the top group, he knew he’d be left behind. He missed states by three places because he was running for three miles with his shoe half-on.”

This season, “He really wanted it, he felt a little cheated last year,” the Gowanda coach said. “He’d run double practices twice a week. He’d show up at school at 5:30 a.m. and run four or five miles, and at the end of the day he’d come back and practice with everyone else.”

O’Donnell said he first started to notice Warrior’s leadership skills when he was a sophomore. A leg injury kept him from running that season, but he served as team manager and kept up on a bicycle during team practice runs.

“When the kids stop for water (during practice runs), he’s the fastest and gets it to it first,” O’Donnell said. “He makes sure everyone else gets water first. As the team leader, he takes care of everyone else before he takes care of himself. It took me a while to notice that, but that speaks to who he is a little bit.”

Like fellow sophomore Brown, Cossin boarded the bus Friday with more experience at states than the older boys they are traveling with. But like Warrior, the trip represented a bit of redemption for her.

Her coach, Mike Janisch, explained that although she made states in both the seventh and the eighth grades, illness kept her out as a freshman.

“She understands fully what’s going on,” he said. “She kind of dedicated the last year to getting back to the state meet that she didn’t qualify for last year.”

Janisch said she has both the athleticism and the personality to succeed in running.

“She’s a very strong runner. She’s physically, for her size, strong, with a long stride and a quick turnover,” he said. “She’s one of the happiest kids we’ve had run in many years. She’s really focused on what she wants to do in this race.”

Janisch said he and Cossin are hoping for a top 20 finish.