By ROB JONAS
The 2017 Section 2 cross country season was unusual in that the Saratoga Springs girls team failed to win the Class A title for the first time since 1999. Shenendehowa ended the Blue Streaks’ 17-year reign by claiming the crown with 40 points, while Niskayuna snuck in for second place with 60 points.
Normalcy returned later in November, as Saratoga edged Shenendehowa by three points for third place at the Nike Cross Nationals regional meet to qualify for the national finals in Oregon. There, Kelsey Chmiel placed second to cap a junior season which also included her third consecutive Sectional title and runner-up performances at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and New York State Federation meets.
Can Saratoga climb back to the top of the Class A field at this year’s Sectionals? Will Niskayuna defend its boys Class A title against a crowded field that includes Bethlehem, Saratoga, Shenendehowa and Guilderland? And how have the BEDS numbers affected the large school landscape for 2018? Here is a look at how things could shape up in Class A and Class B this season.
Class A Girls
Shenendehowa became the first team other than Saratoga to win the Sectional title since Colonie in 1999, thanks to a trio of talented seniors – Hannah Reale, Olivia Lomascolo and Charlotte Hartman – who placed in the top 10. Now that they’ve graduated, it will be up to returning juniors Hannah Belleville (11th at last year’s Sectionals) and Jada Dennis (12th) to lead the Plainsmen in their quest to repeat.
Niskayuna similarly graduated three key runners from its top five at last year’s Sectionals – Abigail Spiers (second), Amelia Kokernak (10th) and Samantha Padula (20th). However, the Silver Warriors have an equally strong core of young runners returning this year, including freshmen Liyat Kebbede (13th last year), Abigail Thomas (23rd) and Sophia Boler (24th). They, along with senior Charlotte Kokernak, should keep Niskayuna in the title hunt.
Saratoga was unable to form its traditional pack of front runners last season, but the Blue Streaks have some promising young talent in eighth graders McKinley Wheeler and Skyler Knott. Then, there is Chmiel’s quest for a fourth straight Sectional title to look for.
Perhaps the team best positioned to make a move up the Sectional standings this season is Bethlehem. The Lady Eagles return their top four runners from last year’s Sectionals, and not one of them is a senior. With juniors Rachel Hodge (sixth place in 2017), Gillian Roeder (19th) and Emily Smith (25th), as well as eighth grader Rylee Davis (ninth), Bethlehem has an opportunity to challenge for the title after finishing fourth a year ago.
Other runners to watch include Ballston Spa junior Faith DeMars, who finished third at Sectionals last year, and Guilderland sophomore Alexandria Vellekoop, who placed 14th in 2017.
Boys Class A
The top two teams from last year’s Sectional meet have significant shoes to fill, as both Niskayuna and Bethlehem graduated four of their top five runners. Senior Marty Dolan (seventh place) returns for Niskayuna, along with junior Thomas Ragone (31st), while Bethlehem will likely rely on senior Matt Cavaliere (sixth).
Shenendehowa graduated Liam Hickey and TJ Michalek from last year’s team, which finished third at Sectionals. The Plainsmen’s future looks bright, though, with the return of seniors Alex Hislop (12th place in 2017), Odin Schaepkins (27th) and Gregory Langone (30th), along with junior Bryan Spence (29th).
Saratoga is well positioned for a run at the Class A team title after finishing fourth last year. The Blue Streaks return their entire top five from last year’s Sectional meet, including senior Shea Weilbaker, who turned in a third-place finish at Sectionals a year ago. Junior Aidan Waite (18th last year) and senior Ezra Ruggles (23rd) are also back, as are sophomore Brady Tooker and senior Anthony Verro.
Looking for a darkhorse? Look no farther than Guilderland, which returns its top four runners from last year’s Sectional meet. Senior Noah Tindale is aiming to improve upon a ninth-place finish in 2017, and senior Nicholas Soldevere has his sights set on a top-20 finish.
Other runners to watch in 2018 include Ballston Spa junior Ben Guerin, who finished 13th at the 2017 Section 2 meet, Shaker junior T.J. Randall (15th) and Schenectady senior Isaac Menis (21st).
New additions to Class A in 2018: Queensbury and Amsterdam (both up from Class B)
Girls Class B
Even with perennial Class B power Queensbury now in Class A, this year will be intriguing as a young and talented Mohonasen squad looks to unseat defending champion Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
Mohonasen is led by the Sherman sisters – sophomore Kate Sherman, who finished third at last year’s Sectionals, and senior Anna Sherman, who was seventh. Throw in junior Emma Sinisgalli (eighth in 2017) and freshman Natalia Sawyer (15th), the Mighty Warriors have a core four that rivals Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake.
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake isn’t about to let Mohonasen take its crown easily, though. The Spartans have four key runners returning, led by defending Class B champion Rory Graham. Freshman Emily Burg (sixth place in 2017) is also back, as are sophomores Madi Whited (23rd) and Maddy Smith (24th).
Queensbury’s departure gives other schools a chance to climb the ladder. Scotia-Glenville has four of its top five runners returning from a team that finished fourth a year ago, while Academy of the Holy Names possesses two of the more promising freshmen in Class B with Isabel Vogel (11th place last year) and Livingston Ottman (16th).
Other runners to keep an eye on this season include Emma Willard junior Skylar Dailey (10th place at the 2017 Sectionals), Schalmont sophomore Mya June (14th), Scotia-Glenville sophomore Delaney Krogh (18th) and Gloversville senior Daley Jo Christman (20th).
Boys Class B
Without Queensbury, the gap between Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and the rest of the Class B field figures to only get larger in 2018. Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake dominated the 2017 Sectional race by placing six runners in the top 10, including a sweep of the top three places, and the Spartans did not lose any of those runners to graduation.
On the surface, Schalmont’s Antonio and Francisco Beltran have the best shot to break up Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake’s top five of Tyler Berg, Aidan Gillooley, Evan Brennan, David Metacarpa and Nick Hunziker. The Beltrans placed fourth and fifth last year, but they will need to improve their Sectional times by 25 seconds in order to close the gap between them and the trio of Berg, Gillooley and Brennan.
Schalmont and Scotia-Glenville are the teams most likely to benefit from Queensbury’s departure. Schalmont returns its top five runners, while Scotia-Glenville has four of its core five coming back. Scotia-Glenville also has the highest ceiling of the two teams, as two runners – Alex Tebano and Noah Greski – are entering their sophomore seasons, and another – Kyle Ostrander – is entering his junior season. Tebano, Greski, Ostrander and senior Gabe Winters-Bona all placed in the top 30 at last year’s Sectional meet for the Tartans. Schalmont is loaded with seniors including the Beltrans, AJ Roohan, Jacob Wilson and John Dearstyne.
Other runners to keep an eye on include Mohonasen junior Nathan Belcastro (16th at Sectionals in 2017) and Mohonasen senior Kevin Sherameta (22nd).
Coming soon: Class CC, C and D previews