So yes, the numbers are pretty stark for NY's guys in the wake of a pandemic that hugely disrupted one XC season and put some tough restrictions on another. It will be a long and winding trail back to some semblance of the robust scene in the fall of 2019. This year should be a huge leap back toward the good old days, but it may well be not till 2023 or 2024 that the regeneration process is complete.
A few comparative numbers between the last full preseason preview in 2019 and this year's issue paint a pretty telling picture of the state we're at. Back then, six teams had speed rating averages for their top 5 returning runners of 160 TR or better, and this year it is just one. In 2019 you needed a 158.2 TR or better to crack the Top 10 for teams, and this year you can get in at 150.8. With each TR point equal to 3 seconds on a 5K course, the top 10 teams for 2022 are running about 16 seconds on average behind the 2019 group.
Again, much of the problem is related to the pinch in the team-building development cycle two years ago that continued to a lesser extent into last year. The boys' teams always lose a lot more runners to graduation in relation to the girls, and last year 40 of the 68 runners with TRs of 170 or higher were seniors, close to the normal 60% rate. The issue though is that in 2019 there were 112 runners at 170 TR or better, and even if 68 did graduate, that still left a much bigger group of guys at the very top who were coming back.
One huge advantage that the 2022 XC season has over all the others is the higher level of exhilaration that everyone is feeling over the return of the full slate of invitational meets and championships. After being at least a bit cooped up in recent times, the runners are ready to do explosive stuff on the trails again.
The Year That Was
There was to be no NXN nationals for the top teams to aim for last year, so for once almost all the top teams except Class A champ and 3rd place teams Corning and Shenendehowa were running at the Federation championship. Class B winner Burnt Hills was the winner at Feds and then bested the short-handed Corning team at NXN-NY. Corning's top runner Jack Gregorski was at the Eastbay Northeast regional qualifying for the Nationals meet along with the Feds top finishers, LaSalle Institute's Gitch Hayes and Fordham Prep's Myles Hogan. The three NY seniors wrapped everything up in San Diego a week later as Hayes took 17th, Hogan was 27th, and Gregorski was 38th.
The NYSPHSAA intersectionals (also known as States) and conference championships also saw some good action. Corning and Gregorski were the team and individual champs in Class A and Burnt Hills and LaSalle's Hayes were tops in B. It was the third win for Corning in five years in A, while the Spartans got their fifth straight win in B. Two teams who were winning their first States titles were Irvington in C and Tri-Valley in D. Alden's Kyle Urban in C and Beaver River's Colton Kempney in D made it a sweep of the individual titles by seniors.
In recent years, Fordham Prep had come close to winning the CHSAA title for the first time since 1959, but each time the Rams had come up short. Last year FP and senior lead runner Myles Hogan finally sealed the deal as Hogan got a repeat. Out west it was St. Francis and senior leader Joseph Pivarunas winning at the MMAA All-Catholic championship. Back in NYC, Collegiate captured the NYSAIS win while Trinity senior Nikhil DeNatale won the individual title to help his team take the first ever NYSAIS second berth at Feds. We leave the PSAL to breathtaking last for two reasons. First, it had the closest finish with Brooklyn Tech beating out Susan Wagner after a tie-breaker was needed to settle the winner at 71-71. Second John Jay Campus's Nathaniel Boutin was the winner, and he was only a junior. One champ back for this year.
2022 Season's Landscape
For the NYSPHSAA teams this year, all trails lead to Vernon-Verona-Sherrill, where the States intersectionals were last held in 2011 in yet another upstate mud bowl of a championship. This year some changes have been made to the course, though hopefully the distinctive pumpkin-decked finishing corridor touches will be retained.
Despite the usual huge exit of last year's seniors including six of the top seven runners from last year, 2022 almost seems to be picking up from 2021 in many ways. Despite some huge losses, Corning and Burnt Hills are considered big favorites in Class B. Class C champ Irvington also lost key runners but should be battling for another title with East Aurora dropping down a class from B. Tri-Valley and Arkport-Canaseraga were the top two teams in Class D, and there should be no changes down there this year.
The one conference where a change at the top is 99.99999% certain is the CHSAA, since Fordham Prep made a deal with the devil last year to win its first title in 62 years with a squad whose top six runners were seniors. Saint Anthony's has the strongest numbers in the conference and should be a contender for a spot at NXN Nationals this year, but last year's runner-up Xavier lost by just 6 points to FP last year and could challenge for the CHSAA win. St. Francis and the perennial MMAA power St. Joseph Collegiate should again be battling out west. In the PSAL, Brooklyn Tech goes for a repeat with the edge over John Jay Campus and Hunter. In the NYSAIS, Collegiate and Trinity will try to fill out their squads for another showdown.
Last year's individual champs all pretty much are gone, but there are still five guys back this year who posted 180 TRs. The highest rating goes to the Fed's top returner (3rd) Peter McMahon of West Genesee who was also the champ in the S3-A sectional. Another senior who much will be riding on this year is Corning's Ashton Bange who will be taking over from Jack Gregorski the Hawks' campaign for a repeat in Class A, where he is the top returner after a 4th there in 2021. Adam Furman was the runner-up in Class D last year and now is the favorite there as he leads Tri-Valley's quest for a repeat. PSAL champ Nicholas Boutin is poised for a repeat, and he also could be helping John Jay Campus win its first title. Trinity's Ronan Luff finished 2nd to his senior teammate Nilhil DeNatale in the NYSAIS last year, and he will be the favorite there this year. One more guy who did not quite make the 180 cut but who is expected to lead a top team is Matthew Rounds of Burnt Hills who was the champ at NXN-NY.