By Christopher Hunt
KINGS PARK – It was supposed to be decisive. It was supposed to be the kind of race that when the runners staggered across the finish line everyone at least would have an idea who won. Instead coaches scrambled to count places, asked anyone who looked like they were watching and then finally decided to accept the excoriating wait for the official word.
That’s how great Fayetteville-Manilus ran. But in the end it still wasn’t enough. Shenendehowa proved to be too much and Shen won the Class AA title, 30-47, over Fayetteville-Manilus at Sunken Meadow Park Saturday. Shen coach Mark Thompson found out before the results were even posted.
“The kids are going to be hysterical when I tell them,” he said. “They were a little down afterward. After the race we were all just looking at each other. We didn’t know what happened.”
It almost became hard to track the team battle with the type of race unfolding in front for the individual title. FM’s Alex Hatz kept putting pressure on Alex Leuchanka of Shen and Leuchanka simply wouldn’t back off. As soon as Hatz would find enough room to breathe he would find Leuchanka right back on his shoulder, all the way up Cardiac Hills at two miles, down through the picnic area and into the last half mile where Hatz finally put some distance on Leuchanka. But Leuchanka again came back charging while the crowd roared and Leuchanka floored it.
He closed the gap but Hatz’s powerful strides wouldn’t allow Leuchanka to steal victory. Hatz won in 15:59.27 with Leuchanka behind in 15:59.47. And they smiled at each other and hugged because they both knew they couldn’t possibly have found another gear.
“It was the most amazing race ever,” Leuchanka said. “We were both kind of slow up the hill but who isn’t? I tried to make a move and he responded. I thought I had it at one point but he’s so tough.”
Hatz said he never doubted himself even while Leuchanka pressed him.
“It did hurt,” he said. “I knew it’d be neck and neck the whole time. … In my mind, I knew I had it. You always have doubts but I was confident in my training and confident in my kick.”
Neither of them could pull themselves together long enough to try to figure out if their team looked like they’d won.
“I was just out of my mind,” Leuchanka said. “I had nothing left. I didn’t know what was going on.”
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake had to wait much longer to be sure whether it won the Class A race. The team didn’t get the official score until they arrived at Half Hollow Hills East in Dix Hills for the awards ceremony. Coach Chip Button had it the worst trying to endure the wait. In the 11 times he’s led a team to the state meet, four times his team lost by less than seven points.
“It wasn’t as bad for the kids but I couldn’t help but remember those times,” he said.
But it was worth the wait. They won with 51 points. Pittsford Mendon finished second with 69 and Wantagh third with 74. More than anything, Button was impressive with the way his team responded to two intense races at Section 2 Suburban Council championships against Shen and a close win over Queensbury at the Section 2 championships. Plus, by the time the Class A race took off, a steady light rain and eight races had traversed the course at Sunken Meadow Park and ate up the course.
“It was really our third really tough race in a row and I think that certainly played a row in how we ran,” Button said.
“With that and the conditions of the course, I’m really happy with the way the guys ran. They had a choice whether they would just give in or they could go out and respond to the pace and they responded to it.”
Joe Whelan of Hamburg won the individual title in 16:06.53. BHBL’s Otis Ubriaco was second in 16:32.85. Scott Maughn was 11th overall in 16:47.07 for Burnt Hills and Kent Barlow 13th in 16:56.08. Burnt Hills was trailing by a point with their top three and Pittsford Mendon’s top three finished. But BHBL’s fourth and fifth runners made the difference. Sean Pezzulo finished 43rd in 17:43.84 and Matt Rusilas 45th in 17:55.34, both finished before Pittsford Mendon’s fourth runner.
Reach Christopher Hunt at email@example.com.