A look ahead at Saturday’s cross country state championship races

The Foothills Council in Section 2 of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) is sending a talented group of athletes to Saturday’s Cross Country State Championships that will be held at Monroe Woodbury High School in Woodbury, NY. Several of the finest runners in the state from the Foothills Council schools of Amsterdam, Glens Falls, Queensbury, Schuylerville, and South Glens Falls will race for titles in the girls and boys Class B and Class C races. Among the athletes on the girls side is Amsterdam High School sophomore Olivia Lazarou, who qualified for her second straight appearance in the state championships at Friday’s Section 2 event at Saratoga State Park.

Lazarou finished second with time of 18:28.84 behind only Burnt-Hills Ballston Lake junior Eva Scott to earn another trip to the state title meet. A year ago, Lazarou became the first Amsterdam girl cross country runner in school history to qualify for the state championship with a top five finish and a career best 18:20.14 time in the Class B race at the Saratoga course. Setting goals for the season that included a return to the state meet, and beating her best time at the Saratgoa State Park, Lazarou continued to work in the summer and attended a camp specifically for cross country athletes.

“I attended a running camp in the Catskills,” said Lazarou who attended The Running School, located in Swam Lake, NY. “I met a lot of girls and had fun.”

The Running School at Camp Chipinaw in the Catskill Mountains holds week-long camps during the summer months to help runners at all levels of experience. During August of 2015, Lazarou attended a camp for high school cross country athletes to help prepare for the current season. The degree of difficulty for cross country courses often varies and tests the endurance of runners. The camp Lazarou attended was designed to provide training and help improve athletes’ endurance especially on difficult courses involving hills.

“The camp helped me endurance-wise,” Lazarou said. “It helped me practice for running hills. Now, I’m better prepared to run on hills. I’m ready for them. Hills are fun.”

Lazarou will have some familiar faces to give her company while she navigates the course this Saturday. Queensbury senior Sherri Metcalf (18:33.07- 3rd in Section 2 Class B), and sophomore Emily Atamanchuk (18:39.38- 4th in Section 2B) are part of the Foothills Council contingent headed to states. Both girls are no stranger to state competition. They were both part of the 2013 Queensbury team that won the Class B team state title. Metcalf made her first trip to states as a freshman in 2012 and finished 47th overall in Class B. As a sophomore she moved up to a 36th place finish. Returning to states as a senior is a special moment for Metcalf and perhaps the last race in an outstanding career.

“I’m so excited to be going back to states,” Metcalf said. “I’m so happy but sad at the same time. It’s a great way to end the season. If it is my last race I’m happy my teammate Emily is with me.”

Emily Atamanchuk made her first appearance at states with the Queensbury team in 2013 as an eighth grader. As a freshman she finished 26th in the Section 2 Class B race last year and made great strides this year winning the Foothills Council Championship girls varsity race, placed second behind Lazarou at the Schodack Island Invitational, and qualified for states with a fourth place finish at the Section 2 championships. Atamanchuk said she noticed predictions made on cross country race websites and then took it to heart and showed she has what it takes to make it to states.

“It’s really exciting,” said Atamanchuk after the Section 2 race. “We used the online website predictions as motivation. It helped us prepare mentally. This run helped us prepare for states.”

Lazarou, Metcalf, and Atamanchuk accent a Section 2 Class B team led by a squad from team champion Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake with Scott, Emily Dingman, Marina Jerri, and Skylar Sweet all having made multiple trips to state meets. There is also a pair of newcomers to state competition and they are both from a Foothills Council team. South Glens Falls senior Amber DeCrescente (19:17.2 – 6th Section 2 B) and her teammate junior Regina Rosati (19:24.09 -7th Section 2 B) will both be making their first appearance in a state title race.

Section 2 Class B girls teams have won the last three team state titles in cross country. Albany Academy for Girls won the crown in 2012 followed by Queensbury in 2013, and Burnt Hills- Ballston Lake last year. The Section 2 Class B team with also be defending its sectional team title. The Girls Class B race is set to begin at 11:10 am on Saturday.

The Foothills Council will also be represented in the Girls Class C race with a pair of athletes from Schuylerville High School. Senior Julia Freemire, who will be making her second trip to states and junior Ashley Watson who has the most experience of all the Foothills Council girls at state meets with this her fourth straight year. Watson also provided a comeback story at the Section 2 meet last Friday.

At the Foothills Council Championships on October 26, Watson was one of several runners in contention for first place in the girls varsity race. However, Watson started but didn’t finish that race and hadn’t raced in nearly two weeks leading into the sectional meet and appeared to put her chances of returning to states in doubt. Watson left no doubt that she still has what it takes finishing third in the Section 2 Class C race with a time of 18:56.26.

“I had a better mental outlook today,” said Watson who will try to improve on her ninth place overall finish in last year’s state meet. “I ran my own race to try to get to states, and I tried to think of it like I’m still as fast as I used to be.”

Watson finished 20th overall as an eighth grader as part of a Section 2 champion Schuylerville team in 2012, and was one place better in 2013 as a freshman. As a sophomore she jumped all the way up to ninth and will be one of the top contenders in Saturday’s Girls Class C race that is slated to begin at 11:40am.

The Section 2 Class C girls team is led by Schalmont senior Julia Flower, who won the Section 2 race with a time of 18:15.76. She will be joined by Greenville junior Olivia Baumann, Hudson senior Alexandra Bartolotta, and the Chatham girls team that won the 2015 Section 2 Class C title, led by sophomore Hallie Allen and senior Erin Clark.

Other girls teams making it to states are perennial champion Saratoga Springs in Class A led by freshman Kelsey Chmiel, who turned in the best time of any girl in Section 2 at 16:59.60. Emily Bini of Guilderland, Maryanna Lansing of Shaker, Julia Zachgo and Danielle Jordan of Shenedehowa, and Kathryn Tenney of Colonie will all be part of the girls Class A team. Greenwich won the girls Section 2 Class D team title and is led by senior Tori Spezio, and top two Section 2 finishers in eighth graders Brynne Wright and Emma Cronin. Duanesburgs’ Elaine Atanasova and Jen Skeeter, Maple Hill’s Monica Strain, Berlin Central’s Maggie Gordon, and Berne Knox Westerlo’s Annielaura Shafer make up the girls Section 2 Class D squad. Saturday’s Girls Class A race is slated to start at 10:40am. The girls Class D race is set for 12:10pm.

The Foothills Council will be well represented on the boys side as well. Foothills Council boys varsity champion and Section 2 runner up, junior Ethan Carey of Queensbury will be making the trip to states. Joining him is teammate sophomore Kevin Bouyea who finished fifth in the Section 2 Class B race. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake won the Section 2 Class B boys team title and are led by the winner of that race in senior Kevin Gideon who posted a time of 15:46.61. Christian Brothers Academy’s Kevin LaFleche and Mike Flowers, and Averill Parks’ Jeremy Carter are also part of the Class B squad. The Boys Class B race is set to begin at 9:25am.

Glens Falls won the Section 2 Class C race and will send a team to states that includes second place finisher in sophomore Chris Hughes (16:17.22), senior Nick Lee (16:32.76 -4th place Section 2), junior Noah Britton (17:16.43 – 15th place Section 2), junior Cameron Giordano (17:16.43), and junior Ethan Wyman (18:14.10). Schuylerville junior Spencer Swoboda (16:38.42- 5th place Section 2), and senior Matt Palmer (16:39.00- 6th place Section 2) will also represent the Foothills Council and Section 2 at states. Section 2 Class C winner Greenville senior Sean McAneny posted the Section 2 C best time 15:51.93 to qualify for states. The boys Class C race will start at 9:50 am.

Saratoga Springs won the Section 2 Class A boys title and is sending a team that includes senior Aiden Tooker who ran the best time of any runner at sectionals and the only time under 15 minutes at 14:52.84. Ethan North and Declan Hines were also top ten finshers for the Blue Streaks at sectionals. Joining them on the state team are Guilderland junior Noah Carey (15:05.88- 2nd Section 2A), Colonie senior Jake Johnson, Shaker senior Paul Nichols, and Bethlehem senior Dawson Homer. Start time for the Boys Class A race is 9am.

Maple Hill won the Section 2 Class D boys race and is sending a team led by freshman Liam Danaher (16:58.11 -2nd Section 2 D) and senior Bernie Daoust (17:44.69- 10th Section 2 D) to the state title meet.

Greenwich’s Colin Beasor (16:29.40) who won the Section 2 D race, and teammate Lucian D’ Acchille, Hawthorne Valley’s Sebastian Sanchez, Duanesburg’s Boone Lynch, and Xavier Rich of Berne Knox Westerlo will join them. The Boys Class D race is set to start at 10:15am on Saturday.

An awards ceremony will follow the competition at 1:45pm, followed by a selection meeting for the upcoming Federation meet.

Scott Mulford

Scott Mulford has been covering local sports for over 20 years. He previously wrote for the Amsterdam Star and The Free Press of the Mohawk Valley.