Sectional championship cross country meet is today

On your marks!

Fredonia’s Emily Brown, left, runs alongside Silver Creek’s Ellie Decker in a race earlier this season.

By BRADEN CARMEN

bcarmen@observertoday.com

BEMUS POINT — The best runners in all of Section VI converge on a familiar spot today, as the Sectional championship meet takes place at Bemus Point Golf Club.

At stake — a shot to compete next weekend at the state championship meet.

This event is unique in that it doesn’t matter how a runner has competed all season long. The only deciding factor in determining representatives in the state championship is how the runners place today.

“When the gun goes off, all bets are off,” said Silver Creek coach Mike Janisch. “And that’s the beauty of it. It’s not about anything else up until that point.”

That situation is a familiar one for Fredonia senior standouts Diego Rey and Emily Brown. Leaders of their team all year long, Rey and Brown look to make a repeat trip to the state championships. They were two of the three Fredonia runners to qualify last season, and each has a good chance to qualify again this year.

“We have high goals for both of them,” said Fredonia head coach Carol Zirkle. “They both went to states last year and they both have a good chance to do it again.”

Because of their past success, Rey and Brown will not be a stranger to the stakes, as many other runners may be.

“You just try to be mentally prepared to run your best race,” said Zirkle. “You know what you have to do, and they especially do, because they’ve done it before.”

Adding to the familiarity for Fredonia is the location of the meet. For the second straight week, Fredonia is racing on the same course, as is Silver Creek. The county championships were held in Bemus Point last week, as was the Red Dragon Invitational, a meet that Fredonia and Silver Creek both competed in earlier this year.

“It gives the kids a lot of confidence that they’ve actually raced there,” said Zirkle. “Over the last two years, this is the sixth time we’ve been at this course. We’re excited it’s back there.”

The course is not just a benefit from the standpoint of familiarity, but also because of the terrain, as well. With rain throughout the week, running on a course with gravel like this course — rather than a grass course — is much more advantageous to the runners, according to Zirkle. However, that does not mean that putting the event together is an easy task, by any means.

“Maple Grove does a phenomenal job getting the course ready. The parents give a lot of support to put events like this together,” said Zirkle. “We’re fortunate to be able to run there.”

There are two ways to qualify for the state championship meet. The first way is to be the top girls or top boys team in the class. The winning team for the sectional championship sends all seven members of the team to the state championship.

For the boys teams in Class C, Coach Zirkle believes this year is more competitive than most.

“There’s probably five teams that have a good chance to win,” said Zirkle. “That’s very unusual. There’s usually two or three teams that have a good chance, but this is a very competitive field this year.”

For the girls, there is a clear front-runner in the eyes of both Zirkle and Janisch.

“Newfane is definitely the favorite,” said Zirkle. “There is a lot of very tough competition, but they have been ranked near the top all year long.”

Zirkle says to finish in the top five of the girls team rankings is a definite goal for Fredonia. For Janisch and the Silver Creek girls team, the goal is a sectional title.

“It is definitely a goal to win a team title,” said Janisch. “The team race will be quite a competition.”

Silver Creek’s leading girls — Ellie Decker and Juliana Flick — will be crucial to the success of the Black Knights. But the other members of the team will be crucial, as well.

“It’s not just the kids up front, but it will be the rest of the team that determines the winner,” said Janisch.

Should Fredonia or Silver Creek fall short of winning the sectional team title, there is still hope for the top individuals to make the trip to states. After the top team in the class automatically makes states, the top five finishers not on that winning team also earn a spot in the state championship meet. That path is the one that Fredonia’s Brown and Rey followed last year, and a path many local runners have a chance at this year.

For the girls, Fredonia’s Brown and Silver Creek’s Decker are the best chances at a state representative from the area. Both Janisch and Zirkle agreed that that pair — along with Silver Creek’s Flick and Fredonia’s Savannah Lashbrook — have a chance at qualifying for the state meet.

“Ellie Decker has a really good chance,” said Janisch. “She has beaten most of the competition at one time or another. However, it’s difficult to predict how the local runners stack up against the others that you don’t get to see before this race.”

Janisch added, “Juliana Flick will be up there, as well. But it is really a strong group up front.”

For the boys, the top contender based off individual performance so far this season is Fredonia’s Rey. Currently ranked in the top 30 by tullyrunners.com, Rey is the top male runner in Class C in the area. With a good showing on Friday, he has a shot at making a return trip to states.

Dunkirk’s top male runner, Anthony Ruiz, is the Marauders’ best shot at a competitor in the state meet. Ruiz is 64th in Class B according to tullyrunners.com. Dunkirk’s female standout, Jericha Petrella, is ranked 121 in Class B.

Silver Creek’s top male runners are Gabe Rhodes, Josh Bunnell and Riley Wilson. Though the Silver Creek boys team will be incomplete, therefore taking the Black Knights out of the running for a team sectional title, Janisch still expects there to be a lot on the line for his runners.

“My goal is for all of our runners to run a personal best,” said Janisch.

That goal means even more for Wilson, who will likely be running his final race, after being a member of the team since middle school.

“He will definitely be trying to run best personal race,” said Janisch. “He’s been a member of the team since middle school, and he has made tremendous progress over that time. I’ll be sad to see him go.”

No matter what the predictions may say, this race is all or nothing. This is the last chance for everyone involved to make the biggest stage of the year, and it all will be decided today.

Twitter: @bradencarmen

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