By Christopher Hunt
photo by Tim Fulton
NEW YORK – Bill Aris said something was different. The times across the board didn’t match with the super-fast performances that many expected. But one thing remained constant at the Manhattan Invitational: Fayetteville-Manilus looked as close as it gets to indestructible.
FM, the top-ranked team in the country, totaled 32 points to win its fourth straight Eastern States Championship Saturday at Van Cortlandt Park. The team squeezed its top 5 in the first 11 spots of the prestigious race, holding off Tatnall (Del.), which finished second with 80 points. US #2-ranked Saratoga Springs pulled out of the race Friday.
“It was a good test,” Aris said. “We wanted to come out and get a hard effort and we did that. We wanted to run a faster but this is a start for us.”
Part of the test was how well they would respond without a healthy Courtney Chapman. The team leader was sick and struggled when the team opened its season at the Chittenango Invitational three weeks ago. Aris said Chapman is just starting to come around. She was FM’s sixth girl Saturday. But sophomore Jillian Fanning enjoyed an outstanding performance, finishing second in 14:16.08, behind Cornwall’s Aisling Cuffe, who won the individual title on the 2.5-mile course.
Even with Chapman struggling, FM posted a 52-second, 5-man spread. Junior Katie Sischo was fourth in 14:26.38. Christie Rutledge placed seventh in 14:52.14, followed by Katie Brislin in 14:56.51 and Heather Martin 11th in 15:08.43. If nothing else, it showed incredible depth for Fayetteville-Manilus. Fanning was the sixth man on the team’s third straight national title last year. Rutledge, a junior, was the seventh man on the junior varsity team last year.
“She’s really turned it out and showed us something,” Aris said of Rutledge.
Aris was also impressed with Fanning. The sophomore did not shy away from chasing Cuffe, the top-ranked runner in the country this season, into the trails and feeding of Cuffe’s pace for most of the race.
“I just wanted to go after her,” Fanning said. “Even when she got away a little bit I could still see her. I wanted to keep my eyes on her and keep chasing. … I think everyone ran great. We really stepped it up to another level today.”
Cuffe, like most who raced Saturday, was off her time goal for the race. Cuffe goes into almost every race looking to wipe out the course record. This time she fell three seconds short. Cuffe won her second consecutive Eastern States crown in 13:58.14. The meet and course record is 13:55.27 set in 2007 by Carly Seymour (Central Cambria, PA.), who was Cuffe’s chaperone when she took her recruiting visit to last month.
“We have this ongoing joke,” Cuffe said. “I told her I really wanted to break her record.”
The Cornwall senior, secretly didn’t want to only break the record. She wanted to demolish it.
She didn’t drop the field early like she has all season but she did take the pace straightaway and never felt anyone after the crowd disappeared in the woods. Cuffe said she heard someone scream to her that she would break 14 minutes as she reached the final downhill but she knew coming into the stretch that she was behind.
“If last year taught me anything, it showed me that you’re not going to break some sort of record every time out,” she said.
She was satisfied with the win but visibly disappointed by missing the record. It’s that competitiveness that has her considering Duke, Villanova, Oregon, Georgetown, Stanford and Washington. But Cuffe said she refuses to put any extra pressure on herself in her senior campaign.
“Especially since it’s my last year, I just have to shut it off,” she said, adding a bit of sarcasm. “You know, it’s not like I didn’t just miss my last chance ever to break the record. I can’t think about that.”
Tatnall also put two in the top 10. Junior Hayley Pierce finished third in 14:22.05 and sophomore Reagan Anderson was ninth in 14:58.31.