The Year That Was
In XC as in human history, those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, though many top teams are quite happy to be repeating a triumph on Bowdoin's Mt. Doom, and harriers tend to forget almost immediately all of the crazy things they did in their last race. So whether or not there's a repeat of 2018's wild rambunctious year that generated a few Cardiac attacks at Sunken Meadow and mad hare dashes near VCP's finish line, a brief reminder of what went down last fall can surely help prepare for future fall follies.
During the 2018 fall postseason that saw the Federation championship blown away by a mid November snowstorm, only one team repeated as conference, NY class, or NXR champ. Unless you are a Nardin Gator from out in the Buffalo area, you would probably have a tough time naming the team that did a three-peat in the Monsignor Martin All-Catholic Champs league.
Elsewhere, Saratoga won not only its first state championship in 13 years (15th in team history) and ended Fayettevile-Manlius's streak of 12 state titles while winning Class A by 1 point, but the Blue Streaks also stopped the Hornet's string of Nike NY regional's wins that started with the meet's start in 2007. Cornwall took Class B by 6 points over reigning champ John Jay-Cross River. Greenwich's Witches flew up to Class C again to sweep up their third States C title and seventh overall in easy fashion. Tully's Black Knights were the only team to upset Bill Meylan of Tully Runners' projections (1 point underdog) for States as they nailed everything at Sunken Meadow to top Maple Grove by 5 points.
Elsewhere at NYC's Van Cortlandt Park, Kellenberg won a wild four-way CHSAA battle with Sacred Heart, Notre Dame, and St. John the Baptist to take the Firebirds' first title in 8 years and second ever. Benjamin Cardozo won the rubber match in a back-and-forth five year competition with Brooklyn Tech for PSAL titles. Poly Prep reclaimed the AIS title it had won in 2016 with a 16-point win over Trinity.
Afterward, Saratoga missed a chance to maybe repeat as a Feds champ due to the snow, but it doubled its States margin over FM to 2 points at NXR. Liverpool also rode a 3rd place at NXR to a selection to Nationals, and the three NY teams acquitted themselves well in Portland with a 4th for FM, 6th for Toga, and a 15th for the Warriors. Suffern's Mary Hennelly was the lone NY qualifier for Foot Locker Nationals, and she went on to finish 29th out in San Diego.
2019 Season's Landscape
There will be changes again this year as teams roll to the big state class and conference championships at Plattsburgh and VCP. One prediction that is set in stone barring an asteroid strike in our region is that Nardin will not be the only 2018 champ to repeat this year, though the Gators are favorites in the MMA over Sacred Heart of Buffalo. It's still Greenwich time in Class C, and as long as Cardozo can field five high-level runners at the starting line, the Judges will be strongly favored in the PSAL, though Brooklyn Tech always hangs tough.
Other solid contenders for repeat titles include a Saratoga team that enters the season with speed numbers almost as high as in last year's preview even though The Blue Streaks lost former world champ Kelsey Chmiel along with longtime stalwart Ciara Knott and now her sister Skyler. Toga enters the season running a fair ways behind Fayetteville-Manlius in a Class A battle that includes North Rockland, Shenendehowa, Shaker, and Liverpool and could be as close or closer than last year. Tully was the top-ranked D team entering States last year, and it would be no surprise if the Black Knights again get enough development behind star Brooke Rauber to repeat against preseason favorite Maple Grove. Poly Prep enters the season close enough to the AIS team-and-individual favorite of Marymount and Lauryn Heskin to make a stab at a repeat.
Only two of last year's postseason champs are either certainly not or very unlikely to repeat. Cornwall just got too popular and its BEDs numbers have pushed the Green Dragons up to A from Class B, where they would have been a solid favorite behind last year's star newbie, Karrie Baloga. All of last year's top B teams had some major losses to graduation, but East Aurora is a moderate favorite over Pearl River to win its first B title in 8 years following two C wins in 2 in 2014 and 2015 and a six-year run of B crowns from 2005 to 2010. Finally, if Kellenberg can repeat in a highly competitive CHSAA after losing the top four Firebirds from last year, then miracles really do happen.
On the individual side of the XC action, 16 of last year's top 20 runners are back, which portends well for some huge performances at the top. Only Saratoga's Kelsey Chmiel is not back from the quartet of NY runners who finished in the top 6 at NXN. Heading the list naturally is two times NXN champ Katelyn Tuohy, who will also be hoping in her senior year to lead a dangerous looking North Rockland team to its first visit out to Portland since 2015. Another senior aiming to propel a return to the top is FM's Claire Walters after a 5th at NXN as she leads a Hornet team with fellow senior Phoebe White that rated 2nd in the nation on a mission to win its 12th Nationals crown in 14 years against the formidable reigning champs, Summit of Oregon. On a smaller team scale, Tully junior Brooke Rauber has placed 6th at NXN for the last two years, and this year she has the added goal of helping the Black Knights get a States repeat in Class D for the first time since 2014
Liverpool senior Jenna Schulz will lead the task of keeping the Warriors among the elite teams in the year after they finished 2nd at McQuaid and Manhattan and went to NXN. Mt. Sinai's Sarah Connelly had a dream year that featured a final-push victory in Class B, a top 30 place at NXN, and then a 1st in the Outdoor States 1500 and 2nd in the 2 mile at New Balance Nationals in NC. CBA's Olivia Morganti was caught in the B race by Connelly and was one place behind a trip to NXN, but she will be returning in her senior year for not only an attempt at the individual crown but also with an eye at leading the Brothers to their second States title in three years, this time in Class B.
Rounding out the top 10 returners for 2019, FDR senior Sarah Trainor comes off a track season that saw her set a national record in the 2K steeplechase and win the States title. Suffern senior Mary Hennelly returns from last year's trip to Foot Locker Nationals and has a Mountie team that can contend again in Section 1. Saratoga sophomore Ella Kurto is merely being asked to spearhead the Blue Streaks' title defense following Kelsey Chmiel's departure, but she has shown every sign of being ready to take on the mantle. Kurto will likely be going head to head with the #10 returner from last year, senior Faith Demars of Ballston Spa, as Demars was 2nd to Chmiel and a second ahead of Kurto at the 2018 Section 2 State Qualifier.
The word "senior" was just used a lot, and yes, other than Rauber and Kurto, the top ten returners are all from that ancient group of runners who first started filling up the speed ratings charts in 2014, when Mary Hennelly topped the 7th grade group with a 133 TR that placed her 15th overall in the state. This is the final go-round for a storied cadre, so catch them while you can, but you had better be very fast.
This year's States meet at Plattsburgh has the potential to be absolutely awesome. Although the site is upstate, there is no chance of a race becoming a giant mud slog as has happened too many times at States in the last 8 years. Like VCP, the course hardly suffers even in a downpour, and we had a full test of that fact back in 2009 for the later races there at States. But unlike VCP, SUNY Plattsburgh is so flat and packed that you can run your fastest 5K PR time in your HS career even in the most miserable conditions possible, and yes that truism was proved for a lot of girls in the nasty ice-rain girls Class C final race in 2009. Be prepared to fly.
Cheers to another fabulous season like no other.