Lazarou, Santiago lead AHS girls to cross country win over Gloversville

When Lauren Santiago competes in the 400 meter race on the track and field team next spring, she might look back on one particular cross country race that helped her push to the finish. Tuesday afternoon, Santiago tracked down Gloversville’s Rhea Winter over the last 400 meters and raced her to the finish line. Santiago was followed by three of her AHS Lady Rams teammates in a race that featured another first place run by Amsterdam junior Olivia Lazarou, and helped the AHS varsity girls cross country team defeat Gloversville 23-40 at Gloversville High School.

Winter had built a considerable lead over Santiago at the halfway mark in the race as the runners headed up a hill and around a field the Gloversville football teams use for practice, but that did not deter the AHS sophomore’s efforts. While most runners may not have found the stamina to gain on an opponent, Santiago showed that she had. As the two runners headed for the final length of a field to the finish, Santiago, in her first year on the AHS varsity cross country team, caught up to Winter and battled for the line. However, Winter remained just a step ahead of Santiago with a time of 22:51 minutes. Santiago (22:52) was followed by three of her teammates: freshman Skylar Grybos (23:22), and Kayla Sondrup (23:44), and eighth grader Elisabeth Marshall (24:38). Those four finishes combined with Lazarou’s top time of 19:50 were more than enough to give Amsterdam its second straight Foothills Council dual meet win.

“My coach (AHS coach Stu Palczak) has said he can see me getting better in the 400 meters in track and field this spring,” Santiago said. “Running cross country helps me with my energy and my kick at the end.”

Santiago and her teammates needed all the energy they could get to navigate the course at Gloversville High School, one that involved both hills and flat terrain as well as a little bit of pavement when the runners went around the school.

“The course is quirky logistically,” Amsterdam coach Stu Plczak said. “It doesn’t lend to speed running. It’s not an easy course. Nobody will say this is a fun course.”

“It was difficult,” added Santiago. “Queensbury was easier than this one.”

The Amsterdam cross country teams ran in the large school division of the Queensbury Invitational at Queensbury High School this past Saturday where Lazarou earned a top ten finish among some of the best runners in Section 2 and across the state. And, as has been the case since she began running for the Amsterdam program, the course seems to always be to Lazarou’s liking.

“I liked the Queensbury course a lot,” Lazarou said. “I remember running there when I was in the eighth grade. I like this course also, it’s challenging especially with the competition. There were a lot of open spaces.”

Lazarou was in the lead for nearly the entire length of the race. Gloversville’s Daley Christman was the top runner for Gloversville finishing second overall with a short sprint to the line and a time of 20:29. Lazarou was pleased with her time as she continues to prepare for a chance to make it three trips in a row to sectionals. Although this year provides the challenge of traditionally stronger competition as Amsterdam is entered in Class A this year and will be facing programs from Saratoga Springs and Shenendehowa high schools of the Suburban Council.

“I thought I did pretty well today, solid,” Lazarou said. “I want to make it to states at the Class A cross country sectionals. People say the competition will be tough, but I think it will push me a lot. I think of it as good competition.”

Lazarou’s top ten finish at Queensbury and her wins in the first two Foothills Council dual meets have her on a pace similar to last year where she got better as the season went on, and eventually finishing second in the Class B sectionals while earning her second trip to the state championships. But, her season didn’t end there. Lazarou’s times helped earn her a place in the Federation championships, a first for an Amsterdam girls cross country runner. Lazarou’s varsity coach Stu Palczak knows what it will take for Lazarou to make it back to states.

“For Olivia she needs to stay healthy and strong the whole season,” Palczak said. “We want her to improve incrementally.”

“Coach tells me to just go out and run hard and not to think about it too much,” Lazarou said. “Focus on working hard as a team.”

Lazarou and her teammates are on course for an outstanding season, one that will continue on Saturday at their home away from home course in the Galway Invitational at Bob’s Trees. Tuesday’s race featured seven AHS girls with top ten finishes, and although they didn’t run as a pack as they had done in a previous meet, Santiago, Grybos, Sondrup, and Marshall all had plenty of distance between them and Gloversville’s next runner Brenna Wooster (25:33).

“The team is inexperienced so I think were apt to be inconsistent,” coach Palczak said. “Our focus with the kids is the core and when we do that then we have a good end to the season. Today all the girls did a good job.”

Eighth grader Sydney Szczepanik (25:58) finished ninth for AHS with Natalia Quinones (27:19) not far behind her in tenth. Rounding out the Amsterdam line up were Gabriella Feliciano (27:42), Mikayla Pine (27:59), Kayla Dzikowicz (29:22), Dalia Quinones (31:21), and Emma Kelly (3122). Gloversville’s Autumn Hardman (28:02) came in 13th, followed by Veronica Paeck (28:50), and finally Sandra Nellis (32:25).

Next up for Amsterdam in the Foothills Council is next Tuesday’s meet against Broadalbin-Perth at the Saratoga Biathlon Club. The Lady Patriots are led by senior Celina Onzo, who has plenty of support from among teammates like Gabby Larsen and Samantha Murphy. Lazarou knows too that she can depend on her teammates as well.

“I love my teammates,” Lazarou said. “They’re like family. I couldn’t ask for a better team.”

Tuesday’s meet could decide the top team in the Foothills Council South Division. Start time is scheduled for 4:30pm.

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.