Lazarou returns to states, AHS girls seventh, boys eighth at cross country sectionals

At the start of the 2015 high school cross country season, Amsterdam sophomore Olivia Lazarou set several goals. Among them, to return to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) championships. Friday afternoon at Saratoga Springs State Park, she fulfilled that goal finishing second in the girls Section 2 Class B race earning a spot on the state team and helping the Amsterdam Lady Rams cross country team to a seventh place finish.

Lazarou became the first Amsterdam girl cross country athlete to make it to the state championships last year as a freshman when she finished fifth in the Class B race with a personal best time of 18 minutes, 20.14 seconds. Friday, Lazarou finished second with a time of 18:27.84 behind only Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake junior Eve Scott who won the Class B race with a time of 18:10.80.

“It feels good and I’m excited to be going back to states,” said Lazarou, who will join a strong contingent of runners from Section 2 next Saturday at Monroe-Woodbury High School for the state championships. “I’s a good course and I know it will be fun.”

As the front runner for the Amsterdam team, Lazarou had to deal with talented packs from Queensbury (60 points) and eventual champion Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake (33 points) and passed several contenders throughout the race on her way to the second place finish, highest ever in a Section 2 race for an Amsterdam girls cross country athlete. Lazarou was gaining on Eve Scott too, and didn’t run out of time, just out of ground to catch her.

“She’s strong right now,” Amsterdam coach Stu Palczak said of Lazarou. “She’s stronger in that it gives her more speed at the end. Over the last mile and half of the race she was with several top runners and she passed and finished ahead of all of them.”

The top five finish and the trip to states gives Lazarou momentum going into the NYSPHSAA meet, and gives her an opportunity to accomplish another goal she set at the beginning of the campaign, to make it to the next step, the Federation meet.

“We’re really happy,” Coach Palczak said. “We always thought Olivia would be outstanding. Making it to states once means you’re a good runner. To make it twice means you’re very good. Over time she continues to improve and continues to impress.”

And while one career is still off and running, another came to a close Friday afternoon. Amsterdam senior Chantel Dopp ran her final race as a member of the Lady Rams cross country team. A career six years in the making, Dopp has been one of the most consistent runners in the AHS program and a constant presence on a team that has graduated the likes of Delilah Quinones, Rebecca Johnson and Danielle Schroeder. Dopp was a teammate to all of them, and helped Amsterdam win three Big 10 conference titles including the schools last in 2013. Dopp also helped the Lady Rams make the transition to the Foothills Council, a league with several talented cross country programs, and helped guide the Lady Rams to a second place in the South division. Friday’s race was the final chapter in an outstanding career.

“I’m gong to miss being a part of the team,” said Dopp, who finished with a time of 22:51.20. “I’ll remember the team and always pushing myself in races.”

When Dopp learned of Lazarou’s accomplishment, the girl who Coach Palczak referred to as ‘a quiet leader’ was all smiles for her teammate of the last three years.

“I’m excited for her,” said Dopp. “I know she’ll do great.”

But, when the 2016 cross country season dawns, Dopp will be leaving some pretty big shoes that young future stars of the program like eighth grader Kayla Sondrup (22:00.90) will try to fill.

“She’s done a nice job for us,” Coach Palczak said of Dopp. “We’re definitely going to miss her.”

Amsterdam (205 points) entered only five girls in the Class B race, enough to score in the team competition. Junior Mikayla Pine (27:03.50), who with Dopp’s departure is now the longest tenured Lady Ram, finished 79th. Right behind her was sophomore Kayla Dzikowicz (27:28.50), who in her first year on the AHS cross country team overcame a shoulder injury and competed in every race for the Lady Rams this year. The seventh place team finish left room for optimism in the future.

“Seventh is good,” Coach Palczak said. “We finished ahead of teams that beat us early in the season. A good day all around.”

Fernandez top finisher as AHS boys finish eighth

A contender as a sprinter for the Amsterdam boys indoor and outdoor track and field teams, senior Gabe Fernandez as a member of the 2015 Amsterdam cross country team discovered that he is also a distance runner. Fernandez came up with an impressive performance Friday afternoon finishing just outside the top 20 runners in the Class B race crossing the line with a time of 17:19.65 good for 21st overall.

“Gabe has been our best cross country runner since the Rapponi brothers,” said Amsterdam coach Kevin Wilary. “Much like David Gravely was a leader for us on the indoor and outdoor track team, Gabe has been a leader for us and he’s an exceptional athlete. He’s been a sprinter for the indoor and outdoor track teams, and now he’s interested in being distance runner.”

Fernandez has caught the attention of college recruiters as well including one who introduced himself and wished Fernandez all the best before the race. Fernandez along with Jon Knack, Will Weinheimer and Edgar Maldonado were the four seniors on this year’s Amsterdam team that led them from the start.

A Rennaisance Man

In addition to being a part of the Amsterdam cross country team for the past three years, Edgar Maldonado is also on the Amsterdam indoor and outdoor track and field teams and a member of the Amsterdam Marching Rams band. Academics are also a priority for Maldonado, who decided to focus on his studies on Friday and did not race.

“Edgar is a renaissance man,” Coach Wilary said. “He’s an A plus student with the highest GPA on the team. He really wanted to focus on his grades. Track and field is his primary sport and he will be ready to go for the indoor and outdoor season. He’s a fantastic leader, a great person to have on the team. A great kid overall to have on the team.”

Maldonado finished with a time of 19:39.21 in last weeks’ Foothills Council championships helping Amsterdam to an eighth place finish. After that meet the senior spoke about setting goals as a team.

“Pushing through the hard workouts we have goals at each meet,” Maldonado said. “Reaching those goals is what I look forward to.”

Beating their times from previous meets has always been a goal for the Amsterdam since the Burnt Hills-Balston Lake meet at the beginning of the season. Amsterdam’s next two finishers behind Fernandez, sophomore Ryan Kamanu (18:09.60) and senior Will Weinheimer (18:48.88) both posted times faster than their performance at the Foothills Council meet.

A self made athlete

Will Weinheimer has been a member of the Amsterdam cross country team since his freshman year and has shown consistent improvement year to year through hard work and overcoming adversity through determination.

“Will has made himself into a good runner,” Coach Wilary said. “He’s a self made athlete. As a freshman Will was below average as a cross country runner. By the tenth grade he had improved and in his junior year he was the most improved runner on the team which is really good. He’s had to battle through some foot injuries but he’s out there practice after practice working hard.”

Weinheimer has had plenty of good teammates to help him through the years and reflected on his time with the AHS cross country program.

“I will miss most of all the friends I’ve made on the team,” Weinheimer said. We’ve had some really good times on this team. We have fun out there on the course and we all support each other.”

The third Amsterdam senior competing in the race, Jon Knack finished with a time of (20:00.02) setting the bar for his brother Thomas Knack (20:50.91) to shoot for.

“I’m very proud of the them,” said Wilary on the AHS seniors, “They’ve done a great job.”

The future of the Amsterdam boys team also showed promise on Friday. Seventh grader Trevor Dzikowicz ran a time of (19:23.24) also an improvement from his previous time on the Saratoga course. Sophomore Antonio Spagnola (22:24.13) completed the day for Amsterdam in the field.

“Trevor is only a seventh grader and he was our number four runner today,” Coach Wilary said. He improved a lot. Nineteen minutes is really good. Put Trevor in there with a pack of athletes from our modified team and we can put some emphasis into this program for years to come.”

Having good athletes come through the program and consistently setting goals to improve could help Amsterdam improve their standing in meets.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the boys,” Coach Wilary said. “We’ve set goals since the Burnt Hills meet and what I saw out of the kids is improvement by a lot.

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.