No. 10 - A Sectional Struggle With National Implications
We kick off our Top Ten List with a story of perseverance. No other team on the line at NXN had the type of season Liverpool did. Taken in isolation, they were one of the strongest teams the state had seen in recent years. With a front runner ranked third in the state, a solid Top 20 guy in second position, and the remaining three within the Top 100 runners in the State, it was clear the warriors of Liverpool were capable of superior performance. There was only one problem, and it rested only 17 miles away.
Week after week, Liverpool would face off against Fayetteville-Manlius, in a year like no other. Liverpool would be forced to start their season in what would arguably be the most competitive meet of the year in the entire country: A tri-meet against Fayetteville-Manlius, with limited displacers from opposing teams, closing the scoring margins. Running stronger than they had the year before, they were able to keep the race competitive, but not enough to tackle the rising challengers. Running at the Pre-State Meet, sans FM, Liverpool dominated the rest of the state. With an 80 point margin, Liverpool proved they were a force to be reckoned with. They returned home to Section 3, to tackle their unusually early League Meet, again facing off against Sectional rivals FM. The realities of facing a national powerhouse in their backyard surfaced again, with a loss at home. However, Liverpool was undeterred. They knew that to beat the best, they would have to race the best. They entered both the McQuaid Invitational (the largest NY-State Invitational) and the Manhattan Invitational (the largest multi-state Invitational). Both times, they would face off against FM yet again. They would close the scoring gap at McQuaid, while it would expand at Manhattan. But the story is about Liverpool against the rest of the field. At McQuaid, the next closest in-state competitor was double their score (72-144). At Manhattan, that gap expanded, with a 122 to 279 point differential. St. Anthony's, competing for the CHSAA, would be the closest NY team to them at Manhattan, 20 points behind, but would compete in a different Federation come championship season. Returning home to Section 3, it was clear. FM may be one of the top teams in the country, but Liverpool was too.
Back in Section 3, the mindset turned to Championship season. In a display of impressive team depth, "B" teams were run at local Invitationals such as Rome and Chittenango, where they won against others' Varsity squads. The top few rested, knowing what awaits. In New York State, only one team per section, per class, moves on to the State Meet. That means two of the best teams in the country would be vying for a single slot. The stakes were clear: whomever won the Section 3 race, would most likely win the State Title. As the gun went off at VVS to signal the start of the race, Liverpool took it out hard, pushing from the gun. Front runner Ben Petrella would have one of his best races of the year. The score would be closer than it had ever been, but it would not be enough. The number two team in the State would not be running at the State Meet. The only consolation would be that three of their top five would make it as individuals. With another outstanding performance by Petrella at the State Meet, where he took second overall, the Liverpool team would take the time to refocus. In a move similiar to Hilton 05, they would not run Feds. Returning at Regionals, running in adverse condition for all, they would close the gap on FM significantly, yet take third to an outstanding performance by St. Anthony's. For the second straight year, they awaited an At-Large bid that would eventually come.
This is where Moment No. 10 comes to fruition. On the starting line of NXN, they were one of the only teams to not win a State Championship. They were the only team to not make the State Meet, through no fault of their own. And yet, they had a tougher road to get there than any team on the line. No other team had to face the eventual National Champions 7 times in a single season. No other team had to fight as hard to be on the starting line. Where as the easy answer would have been to give up in frustration, Liverpool trained harder through the struggle to get there. And when the gun went off, they sure raced like it. They powered through the crowds of teams with ease, demonstrating their merits for an At-Large Invitation. At 4000m, they were in second place, just behind Fayetteville-Manlius, setting up a NY sweep. Starting to fade from an early pace, they would trickle across the finish line, leader Ben Petrella taking 19th overall in the National Competition, earning himself All-American status. When the scores were announced, the realization had sunk in. They had taken 4th in the nation after not making the State Meet. They were the highest placing New York Team ever, not named Fayetteville-Manlius or Saratoga. They were one of the highest placing At-Large bids in the competitions history. They solidified their position as one of the top teams in State History, no small accomplishment.