Elmira cross country coach Ben Cardamone said before the season his girls team was the strongest he has seen at the school in a decade.
The Express lived up to its advance billing Saturday with a 19-point effort at Chenango Valley’s McDaniel-Baxter Invitational, a 15-team meet that included many quality programs.
For the uninitiated, low score wins in cross country. A perfect score is 15, with one point for first place, two for second and so on up to the fifth-place runner on the team.
Elmira runners took six of the top 10 spots, led by sophomore Abbey Wheeler in first and junior Jessica Thatcher in second. Also in the top 10 for the Express were freshman Olivia Riley, junior Khiere Ashley, freshman Mackenzie Tubbs and junior Jordynn Kurcoba.
“I knew what my information said, but until those girls raced what I thought they could do, that’s what validated my whole thought process about how good this team really is,” Cardamone said. “They are a very special group.”
Cardamone said Elmira realized it needed to take its game to a higher level after a dominant season within Section 4 that was followed by an eighth-place finish out of nine teams at the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships.
He expects the girls to push each other and the appearance by freshmen such as Riley and Tubbs in the top 10 Saturday is an indication of that depth. So too were the results from the JV race, where the top four runners were from the Express, including two top varsity girls from last season.
“As long as I’ve been coaching, from a depth perspective this has got to be the strongest girls team and maybe either gender team I’ve ever been associated with,” Cardamone said.
“We have some very talented younger athletes coming up that will make it hard for anyone to rest on past performances. Our goal is to go from good to great.”
So far, so good. A big test awaits Saturday as Elmira takes on some of the state’s best teams at an invitational at Queensbury High School on the same course that will host the state meet in November.
“It’s exciting because we’ve worked real hard to put ourselves in this position and now we’ll go and see if we can race with those folks. I think we can,” Cardamone said.
* The boys team at Elmira doesn’t have the same experience or depth, but Cardamone still has liked what he has seen. The lineup includes seniors Jake Hunkele and Paul Lares, juniors Eric Doud and Brendan Collins, and sophomores Ben Cardamone III and Nick Latshaw.
“After losing some very talented runners to graduation, it would be easy to have low expectations of this team,” coach Cardamone said. “In order to have success in this and most sports, you need to be willing to work in the offseason. These boys did just that. … The arrow is pointing in the right direction for this team.”
* Also making a positive early impression at Chenango Valley was Watkins Glen senior Matt Gill, who won the overall boys race by two seconds over defending Section 4 Class B champion Cody Brizzolara of Maine-Endwell.
Gill finished second last year in the Class C meet at sectionals, then went on to a fourth-place Class C finish at states.
EFA hosts swim invitational
The return of traditional power Ithaca and an appearance by the first-year team at Elmira Notre Dame highlight Saturday’s 37th annual Dr. Jack Thomas Girls Swimming and Diving Invitational at Elmira Free Academy.
The 14-team meet starts at 9 a.m. with diving, which will use an 11-dive format and offers competitors an early chance to qualify for the state meet.
Teams in Class A are Ithaca, Horseheads, Corning and Vestal. Class B includes Elmira, Dryden, Maine-Endwell and Chenango Valley. Class C includes Watkins Glen, Waverly, Lansing, Odessa-Montour, Southern Cayuga and Notre Dame.
Last year’s champions were Horseheads in Class A, Chenango Valley in Class B and Watkins Glen in Class C.
Ithaca, which has won 23 straight Section 4 Class A titles, has not competed at the EFA invitational in several years.
Horseheads junior Mary Edwards returns after earning the meet’s Most Outstanding Competitor award last year. She won the 100-yard freestyle, 200 freestyle and contributed to two relay wins.
Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for students. Programs are $2 and concessions will be available all day.
Horseheads takes JV title
The Horseheads girls junior varsity volleyball team turned in an impressive performance Saturday, rolling to a championship at the 12-team Union-Endicott Invitational.
The Blue Raiders beat Vestal, 25-16, in the championship match after topping Owego Free Academy, 25-16, in the semifinals. Horseheads was the top-seeded team out of pool play with a 6-0 record.