As always in Central New York, the fall season brought plenty of cross country glory. And over the long haul, no one achieved more of it than Tully junior Brooke Rauber. Already a three-time state champion, Rauber added another state Class D title during last November’s weather-altered state meet in Plattsburgh, where they had to run 4,000 meters instead of 5,000 due to snowy conditions. Then Rauber recorded a top-10 finish at the Nike Cross Nationals in December in Portland and then, as if all that wasn’t enough, won a January race in San Diego, ultimately leading to a gold medal at the Pan Am Junior XC Championship held at the end of February in British Columbia, just before the world shut down due to COVID-19.
Part of Brooke Rauber’s conquest was the state Class D girls cross country individual championship, but Section III didn’t stop there. Far from it, as Rauber’s teammate, Katie Edinger, earned a third-place finish and Lilly Fowler-Conner finished in the top 20. All of this helped Tully nearly get to the top of the standings, but it finished third, just seven points behind eventual champion Delhi. Just getting to the state meet required Tully to win at the Section III championships a week earlier, the Black Knights picking up 44 points to runner-up Beaver River’s 59. Rauber’s winning time was the second-fastest of the entire day.
Of course, cross country cannot be thought of in Central New York without the Fayetteville-Manlius dynasty. In a year where Marc Bloom wrote a book about the unique ways coach Bill Aris established the mighty Hornets program, the F-M girls, led by N.C. State-bound Claire Walters, reclaimed the state Class A championship it ceded to Saratoga Springs in 2018, earning 34 points to Saratoga’s 40. But in a unique twist, when they held the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon in early December, F-M could not replicate that magic despite Walters’ fourth-place finish and Saratoga scored a runaway victory, relegating the Hornets to seventh place as Liverpool’s Jenna Schulz recorded a 13th-place finish to cap her fine high-school career.
Yet another state championship was put together by Camden’s girls cross country team in Class C. At the state meet, it was close, but the Blue Devils, with 75 points, edged Section II’s Greenwich by two points, helped in no small part by the individual tile earned by Elizabeth Lucason. Capping off a super sophomore season, Lucason won the state title in 16:51.6, beating the field by more than six seconds as South Lewis’ Lexi Bernard finsihed fourth and Hannah Ielfield got sixth place. Just to get this far Camden had to beat South Lewis in the sectional Class C meet at VVS, where the Blue Devils beat the Falcons by 15 points even though Ielfield and Bernard went 1-2 in the individual race ahead of Lucason.
When you move to Class B girls cross country in Section III last fall, a much larger field than in seasons past led to New Hartford taking the sectional title at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill, netting 47 points to Oneida’s second-place 75 as Kaylee Lacreta finished second among individuals. As for the individual sectional title, CBA’s Olivia Morganti claimed it with a time of 19:29 flat, and when the scene shifted north to Plattsburgh for the state championship meet, Morganti roared her way to a third-place finish in 17:02.2, a tenth of a second out of second place, with the title going to Mount Sinai’s Sarah Connelly in 16:47.1. New Hartford would claim eighth place in an 11-team field.
Fayetteville-Manlius returned home from Plattsburgh with a clean sweep of the state Class A cross country championships. And for the boys Hornets, that meant leaning on the trio of Peyton Geehrer, Sam Otis and Geoff Howles to each finish in the top five among individuals, building a victorious 20-point margin over Shenendehowa. Liverpool’s Carter Rodriguez also had a strong state meet, finishing seventh. F-M had pulled away from Liverpool in the Section III meet at VVS a week earlier, and the Hornets made its way to the Nike Cross Nationals after a win at the New York-Northeast Regionals at Bowdoin Park, ultimately finishing 11th out of 22 teams in Portland as Otis put together a top-30 individual performance.
Just as dominant in boys cross country was Beaver River, who had to feel right at home at Plattsburgh State, where the state championship meet took place. The trio of Colton Kempney, Cory Demo and Josiah Evan finished 2-3-4 among individuals and, helped by Hunter Moore and Cooper Freed (who also finished in the top 15), the Beavers won the state title with 26 points, leaving runner-up Delhi (76 points) far behind them. Beaver River was also a runaway winner at the Section III meet with Sauquiot Valley finishng second and Kempney pulling away from Demo by more than 24 seconds for individual honors. Port Byron’s Braden York notched a 19th-place finish at the state meet.
The Skaneateles cross country program is well-known for its girls success that’s included some state titles, but it was on the boys side in 2019 that the Lakers found glory thanks to Caleb Bender. Already a Section III champion, Bender needed 14 minutes, 41.6 seconds to beat LaSalle Institute’s Gitch Hayes by 4.6 seconds and claim the state title. Skaneateles was kept from a sectional title by Christian Brothers Academy, who went from there to outrunning everyone except Saranac Lake at the state meet to finish second, led by Riley Nash, Michael McMahon and Zach Medicis. Also running well at the state meet was Hannibal’s Dillon Plantz, who ran his way to 15th place amid the sub-freezing temperatures.
The battle for supremacy in Section III Class B boys cross country went to Jamesville-DeWitt. It turned into a neighborhood contest at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill, with the Red Rams getting 53 points to hold off East Syracuse Minoa, who was second with 70 points. Nate Rindfuss, Ahviere Reese and Sam Smith all had top-10 finishes, but it was ESM snaring individual honors thanks to Nick Berg, who won in 16:45.5, beating the field by nearly a minute. Moving to the state meet at Plattsburgh, Berg capped off his fine season by getting to seventh place, by far the best finish of any sectional runner. J-D had to settle for ninth place on the team side, with Burnt Hills edging Pittsford Mendon for the top spot.
At the end of this remarkable season for cross country, a remarkable college team was getting put together at North Carolina State. Two parts of it was from Central New York, Fayetteville-Manlius’ Claire Walters and Liverpool’s Jenna Schulz having run against each other for years and pushed each other to new heights. But the real find for the Wolfpack was the great Katelyn Tuohy, from North Rockland. She was merely the best cross country runner in America the last three years, sweeping state and national honors and becoming the first three-time champion at the Nike Cross Nationals while setting a lifetime’s worth of records. Come the fall of 2020, who’s going to stop N.C. State?