Young runners make the difference in AHS girls cross country win

Skylar Grybos had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday. Not only was it the Amsterdam freshman’s fourteenth birthday, but Grybos along with two of her teammates, finished together as a team, all within one second of each other and helped the Amsterdam girls varsity cross country team win their first Foothills Council dual meet since 2014. The teamwork finish helped the Lady Rams win by a sixth runner tiebreaker over Scotia-Glenville on the 2.82 mile course at Bob’s Trees in Galway.

Grybos and eighth graders Brooke Marshall and Gabby Maroto ran the race as a pack staying ahead of the fifth and sixth place runners for Scotia-Glenville. Grybos (23:46 minutes) was the fourth Lady Rams runner to cross the finish line followed by Maroto (23:47), and Marshall (23:48), who was the sixth AHS runner to finish, thus tying the score at 28-28. However, because Marshall finished ahead of Scotia-Glenville’s fifth runner, Amsterdam earned the win by the tie breaker.

“I can’t remember the last time we finished in a tie,” Amsterdam coach Stu Palczak said. “I didn’t anticipate that. Skylar, Gabby, and Brooke all ran well. We preach running as a pack and they did that the whole race. I instructed them to stay together and finish ahead of the number five Scotia runner. They made the difference today.”

The performance of the three first year varsity runners added yet another dimension to a talented AHS team that features two-time state meet qualifier Olivia Lazarou. The junior front runner in her third year on the varsity team won Tuesday’s girls race with a time of 19:04. Lazarou, now a veteran performer, smiled and was encouraged by the effort from her rookie teammates.

“It was exciting because it was our first league meet, and I was looking forward to this,” Lazarou said. “To see new girls coming up keeps us going. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Lazarou closed out the race more than a minute ahead of the Lady Tartans top finisher Liz Darling (20:21), who was followed by Megan Scognamiglio (21:50). Next across the line was another newcomer to the AHS varsity team, Lauren Santiago, who in her first cross country race placed fourth in 22:27.

“She did a good job,” Coach Palczak said of Santiago. “She stayed tough. I’m proud of her.”

Santiago has been part of a talented Amsterdam varsity girls track and field team running in the 400 meter and relay events. Distance running was something new for the sophomore who is also on the Amsterdam girls varsity swim team this fall.

“It was different,” Santiago sad. “After the first leg I realized it wasn’t as tough as I thought it would be. We did more than we expected and we were able to get through and finish strong.”

Scotia-Glenville’s Lara Meade (22:48) followed Santiago. Not far behind was AHS freshman Kayla Sondrup (23:14) in her second season on varsity. Lady Tartan’s Olivia Wheeler (23:32) gave SGHS four runners over the line before the young AHS trio of Gryos, Maroto, and Marshall added the decisive measure.

SGHS’ Nikki Dugan (24:47), Maddie Durant (25:21), and Hannah Olson (26:26) were next followed by AHS’ Megan Close (26:26), and SGHS’ Rachel Titus (26:36). The Lady Rams took the next five spots with Natalia Quinones (26:40), Mikayla Pine (28:01), Dalia Quinones (29:06), Emma Kelly (29:44), and Kayla Dzikowicz (30:38). SGHS’ Emma Pirano hustled across in 35:00.

The victory for the AHS girls was their first in a Foothills Council dual meet since the 2014 season when the team finished with a 3-1 league mark. The Lady Rams were win-less in Foothills Council league meets in 2015, but the arrival of Lazarou on the varsity team was the focus of the AHS program. Lazarou made it to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) championships as a freshman in 2014 and followed it up with a repeat performance in 2015, and then took it to the next level with a place in the Federation Meet that same year. The 2016 season provides yet another challenge as Amsterdam moves up from a Class B to a Class A school in Section 2 cross country. Amsterdam will be running against teams from Saratoga Springs and Shenendehowa high schools, a challenge that Lazarou looks forward to.

“People say that we got moved up and it makes things harder,” Lazarou said. “But, I’m excited about it. It makes us work harder. It pushes us to be better.”

And getting better could mean achieving another goal that Lazarou has been working for, breaking the eighteen minute mark at Saratoga State Park, one of Lazarou’s favorite courses where she has qualified for states twice.

“She seemed like she was running effortlessly,” Coach Palczak said of Lazarou after Tuesday’s race. “We’re ready for this season. If Olivia stays healthy, she’ll be up there with the top runners come sectionals. If she breaks eighteen at SPAC, she’ll be at the state meet.”

With a talented, teamwork oriented group of young runners including freshman Sondrup, Grybos, Kelly, and Natalia Quinones, and eighth graders Maroto, Marshall, and Sydney Szczepanik, the Amsterdam team has the proven ability to run as a pack and create more space for a front runner like Lazarou to take the lead and dominate a race, making a third trip to states for the talented junior even more possible.

After the race, the Amsterdam team sang Happy Birthday to Grybos complete with a cake and chocolate brownies.

Amsterdam heads to the Queensbury Invitational on Saturday morning, and returns to Foothills Council competition on Tuesday when they travel to Gloversville High School for a 4:30pm 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.