Off to states

Friday was one long day for select high school cross country runners.

After leaving Chautauqua County at 8 a.m., area runners took an eight-hour bus trip to Queensbury High School for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association cross country finals, which will be held today.

Once in Queensbury, the runners took to the course to familiarize themselves before today’s race.

Northern Chautauqua County will be represented by Dunkirk’s Ethan Francis, Fredonia’s Gwen Stokes and Michaela Tramuta, Silver Creek’s Hannah and Emma Seiders and Gowanda’s Matt Kruszka.

Silver Creek coach Mike Janisch is a Section 6 representative and was able to get a preview of the course.

“It’s a very flat course and there is a lot of area that it occupies,” Janisch said. “It was put in on a sandy loam, which is kind of where the school is, so it should have somewhat of a firmer feel. There are two fairly steep areas – one at about one mile and one at about two miles – but other than that, it’s all grass or trail-like conditions.”

Dunkirk coach Kurt Warmbrodt noted Friday’s trial run was essential for today’s race.

“We have to get there early enough to run the course to get a fair idea of what it looks like,” Warmbrodt said. “(Friday) was a long day. It gives kids a day before the race to familiarize themselves. I think it’s very important they get a feel for what they are up against.”

Francis is the first Dunkirk cross country runner to qualify for states since 2010 when Alex Gonzalez competed. Francis qualified for the meet with a sixth-place finish in a time of 17:29.9 last week at the qualifier.

Francis has had some impressive times the past couple weeks in less-than-ideal running conditions. Queensbury has also seen some rain the past couple days and the course is not expected to be perfect. That fits Francis’ style just fine, according to Warmbrodt.

“Ethan’s ready,” Warmbrodt declared. “He is pretty good in bad conditions. He ran well last week when it was wetter.”

With 150 runners in each race, Warmbrodt noted the start of the race is crucial.

“The main thing is to go out hard and then get into a comfortable rhythm,” Warmbrodt said. “You have to be moving to get out in the beginning. You want to get out of the crowd and settle in. Get out with a burst at the starting line. If you’re packed in the middle with 80 runners, it’s hard to advance.”

Two Fredonia girls qualified for states and will be making the trip to Queensbury for today’s race. Gwen Stokes and Michaela Tramuta made the bus trip to states together again after both runners qualified last year as well. Both girls had strong performances in last week’s Section 6 championships with Stokes (20:26.9) finishing fourth and Tramuta (20:28.1) coming in fifth.

This will be Tramuta’s fifth trip to the state meet. She began running cross country as an eighth grader and has qualified for states every year she has been on the team.

“Michaela has been a team leader for quite a few years and she is someone who can be counted on to give her all every day in practice and every meet,” Fredonia coach Carol Zirkle said. “We know that she is going to run very consistent and when she is having a bad day, her bad day isn’t going to show up in her time because she just works through and pushes herself to the limit.”

Stokes, a sophomore, has come on strong in the past few meets and will be making her second trip to states.

“Gwen has a lot of natural ability and she has really come on at the end of the season,” Zirkle said. “She had run a couple of really good races early on but the consistency wasn’t there. But the last four races or so she has really been able to maintain her focus and has showed her growth as a runner and has really developed that toughness to persevere in difficult situations.”

Stokes and Tramuta may have both finished in the top five at the Section 6 championships, but the state championship is a completely different level of competition. A top-five finish may be out of reach for the Fredonia girls, but Zirkle still has lofty expectations for her runners.

“I’m hoping for a top-45 performance; I think that would be a very good race for them,” Zirkle said. “Obviously anything better than that I would be thrilled with. That doesn’t mean that if they come in 55th that they didn’t have a good race, I’m just looking at the quality of the runners and I think a really good race for them would be a top 45.”

While the two girls going to states may be getting all the attention, cross country is a team sport where runners rely on their teammates to push them every day in practice and at meets. Zirkle is proud of her two girls, but also recognizes that this accomplishment may not be possible if it weren’t for the other girls on the team.

“We are very proud of our girls for making it to this point,” Zirkle said. “It’s great for Gwen; she has two more years of running ahead of her and it’s a great experience for her to go to states and to be able to go with a teammate makes it a lot more fun. We’re also happy with how the whole team ran this year. The reason these girls have the chance to get (to states) is because they have such a supportive group of girls they work with and practice with every day.”

Silver Creek will be sending a pair of runners who are familiar with the big stage as well as each other. Sisters Hannah and Emma Seiders will make the trip to the state meet together for the second-consecutive year.

Hannah, a sophomore, is making her fourth trip to states. Hannah began running for Janisch in seventh grade and has qualified for the state meet every year since joining the team.

Emma, who is a freshman, will make her second trip to states this season after qualifying last year in her first season of cross country.

“Emma has taken her leadership role and has really increased it,” Janisch said. “She is really running some great races at this point in time. She’s gotten better as the season has gone on. We expect that hopefully she will be able to run the race that she is capable of (today) and place very high.

“Hannah has been (to states) three times so far and she has a lot of experience running big courses so we’re hoping she too can have an excellent finish,” Janisch said.

At the Section 6 championships, it was younger sister Emma who was able to edge out her older sister by finishing third in a time of 20:26.0. Hannah finished seventh in 21:17.7.

With so many good runners making the trip to Queensbury High School, Janisch expects a tough race, but at the same time, has certain expectations of his girls.

“It seems that the number of competitors who have really good rankings and are really quick seems to be up this year so it should be very difficult to get into the upper echelon but we’re hoping that we can get there,” Janisch said. “Our goals are obviously to do the best that we can but they would both like to be in the top quarter obviously.” Janisch said.

Gowanda will be represented by freshman Matt Kruszka, who placed third last week in the Class C race in a time of 17:19.8

“He had a really good season,” Tim O’Donnell said. “He has obviously improved a lot. Right now he is ranked 29th out of 150 at states. Coming in third last week is a big deal for him. He is excited to see what he can do.”

Kruszka is Gowanda’s 12th male runner in 13 years to advance to states.

Despite being a freshman, Kruszka will have some sort of comfort in knowing fellow runner and friend Ryan Hetrick from Southwestern will be joining him on the bus and in the race.

“Ryan Hetrick has been close to him all year,” O’Donnell said. “Having him in the race will be helpful.”

Like Francis, Kruszka will benefit by competing in the first race of the day.

“I think it will be really important,” O’Donnell said. “He will be less nervous. It’s nice he can get up, eat, warm up and run. He will have it over with early and the course won’t be dug up.

“I’m really happy that his efforts have paid off,” O’Donnell concluded. “He has done a couple half marathons in practice and speed work. He has been working really, really hard. He deserves whatever comes to him. Even if he doesn’t do terrific, just getting there was his goal, so he is satisfied.”