Even with 14 complete girls teams competing in the Southern Tier Athletic Conference cross country championships Saturday at Pheasant Hill Country Club, the reality was everyone knew it would be a two-team battle for the title.
Elmira ended up edging Corning, 30-37, to earn its second consecutive STAC crown on a windy morning that felt colder than the 40-degree temperatures. Out of the top 15 girls finishers, only three were from a team other than Elmira or Corning.
“Today was a great day,” Express coach Ben Cardamone said. “It kind of validates where we are as a team and what we’ve been preaching: how to race. You don’t need to win the race in the first 100 meters. The kids ran well.
“You’re looking at two of the top teams in the state. So you knew this was going to be a battle.”
Saturday’s meet marked the final time the teams will compete against each other this season, with Elmira in Class A and Corning in Class B for Thursday’s Section 4 championships at Chenango Valley State Park.
The Express is ranked third in the state in Class A; Corning is fifth in Class B. Elmira beat Corning, 20-30, in a dual meet earlier in the season.
Not surprisingly, the race for the individual girls title came down to runners from those schools. Corning freshman Jessica Lawson ended up first in 18 minutes, 17.9 seconds on the 3.1-mile course. Elmira sophomore Abbey Wheeler took second in 18:38.1. Ithaca’s Lauren Trumble was well back in third in 19:34.2.
Corning was dominant in capturing its second straight boys team title. The Hawks had five runners finish in the top 16 and finished with 44 points, with Maine-Endwell second with 66.
Ithaca junior Dan Dracup repeated as boys champion in 16:18.7, with Corning’s Sam Chauvin second in 16:33.9 and Maine-Endwell’s Cody Brizzolara third in 16:39.7.
The Elmira girls’ effort included fourth place from freshman Mackenzie Tubbs, sixth place from junior Jessica Thatcher, eighth place from junior Khiere Ashley and 10th place from junior Jordynn Kurcoba.
“I’m going to say at the mile point (Corning was) beating us pretty good,” Cardamone said. “So we just methodically ran through the course and got our positions back.”
Lawson earned the first STAC title of her career and her first invitational win of the season after taking control in the second half of the race. She led early, relinquished the lead to Wheeler in a downhill section, then regained it on an uphill segment.
“It was a good race, but I’m just very confident with hill running and I think that helped me in this race,” Lawson said.
“I’m very happy and honored to do this my freshman year. It’s been going back and forth between me and Abbey the whole season. It was my day today.”
Wheeler, whose speed rating this season is second among New York state girls according to tullyrunners.com, said she hit a weak spot mentally after Lawson took the lead for the final time.
“Me and Jessica have been going back and forth all season. I was expecting it to be a big battle today,” Wheeler said.
“I have always had a hard time with this course. Hills just sometimes aren’t my strength. I can usually do them OK when it counts, but this course is really hilly and I guess she does really well with that.”
Dracup battled injuries last season but still won STAC and Section 4 Class A championships. He said he’s healthy this fall and was never challenged Saturday, leading from start to finish.
“The Corning guys usually compete really well with me, but it just seemed like they were competing to win (the team title),” he said. “Once I felt like I had enough space on them, I just got into a comfortable race pace, not pushing it too hard, but not too slow either.”
Dracup has his sights set on another sectional title, with states to follow, but he was appreciative to be crowned the best in the STAC for a second year in a row.
“It always means a lot,” he said. “I’m so happy when I’m able to pull out a win here. The competition is amazing here in New York state. Last year I was not expecting to win and this year I wasn’t either. Honestly, I was aiming for first or second, but I didn’t expect to win this.”
In addition to the runner-up finish from Chauvin, Corning received finishes of sixth from John McCarthy, ninth from Tom Moshier, 11th from Brian Bates and 16th from Peter Kane.
Ithaca freshman Jake Avery won the boys unseeded race in 17:59.1. Corning freshman Pearl Cooper won the girls unseeded race in 21:42.6.