Running cross country is not for the faint of heart. Just ask those who competed at the New York State Cross Country Championships at Wayne Central High School on Saturday.
The East Hampton boys cross country team, along with freshman Ava Engstrom of the girls squad, competing in their respective Class B races, braved treacherous conditions at Wayne, located just outside Rochester, with temps on Saturday morning in the 20s and nearly two inches of snow on the ground. The course at Wayne, Bonac coach Kevin Barry said, had been basically destroyed at the Section V Championships the week before, then it rained for three days prior to the state meet. The course was in such bad shape that officials didn’t let anyone practice on it until the day before the races.
The course froze over on Friday night, with those who went off on Saturday morning running on frozen mud, but by the time the afternoon races began, which included the Class B 5K, it became a “mud fest,” Barry said. He also mentioned that the course conditions slowed everyone down by 45 seconds to a minute.
Still, Barry said, the state meet was an amazing experience. The Bonackers were seeded ninth out of 11 teams in Class B and that’s where they finished. Ryan Fowkes, a junior, was the first East Hampton runner to finish, crossing the line in 18:12, which placed him 63rd out of 127 runners. Juniors Omar Leon (19:07) and Ethan McCormac (19:15), seniors Emilio “Geo” Espinoza (19:29) and Robert Weiss (19:36), and sophomores Nicolas Villante (20:24) and Frank Bellucci (21:00), all followed.
“I’m so proud of this team. They passed my expectations,” Barry said. “Their hard work over the summer and fall is the reason why they were running in the snow and frozen mud in Rochester in November.”
East Hampton will say goodbye to two of its runners in Espinoza and Weiss. Espinoza was a part of two teams that won league, division and county titles, and went to states twice. Barry said both runners will be missed, but expects his team to be right back in the mix next season, with 14 runners returning and a few new faces advancing to varsity.
Ava Engstrom, making her debut at the state meet, placed 88th out of 125 runners in the girls Class B race in 23:37. East Hampton girls head coach Diane O’Donnell said that was slower than usual, but considering the course conditions, and since Engstrom came down with a cold the morning of the race, her time was wasn’t all that bad.
“She soldiered through it,” she said. “I was pleased with her effort. She worked as hard as she could. She ran a smart race and stayed toward parts of the course that were a little more firm.”
Engstrom will return next season, along with fellow freshman Isabella Tarbet, who just missed qualifying for states. O’Donnell thinks both Engstrom and Tarbet have the ability to make annual trips to states, but as far as leading the entire team, that may prove to be more difficult. There are four seniors graduating from the program, three of whom were top-seven runners for the Lady Bonackers, including longtime runner Liana Paradiso, and Aveen Hallissey and Danielle Lackner.