Success in high school sports has always had a multitude of meanings, but never more so than now.
Corning’s boys and girls teams made it 6-for-6 this season Tuesday afternoon with a sweep of Elmira in a Southern Tier Athletic Conference meet at Big Flats Community Park. Scores were 15-49 for the boys and 15-50 for the girls.
The Hawks’ teams are now 4-0 in dual meets and they both won their two invitationals.
A positive for the Express was tangible improvement from its meet against Corning earlier in the season.
The top seven girls spots on the 5,000-meter course were occupied by Corning runners. Faithe Ketchum won in 18:48.3, followed by Sarah Lawson (18:53), Lydia Keys (19:29.6), Bri Urban (19:32.3), Alicia Lawson (19:37.9), Chloe Freeland (19:51.9) and Cristina Gaskievicz (20:40).
“Today we had six girls under 20 minutes and we’ve never had that before in a single race,” Corning coach Ray Lawson said. “I’m sure if you take the masks off they’d be a little faster. They’ve been able to train all the way through and maybe race a little less (this season). We’ve been able to train maybe a little better.”
It was a similar story for the Corning boys, with Jack Gregorski’s winning time of 16:44.8 leading a sweep of the top six spots. Matt Gensel took second (16:54.7), Marcus Homa third (16:57), Nathan Webb fourth (17:11.7), DJ Cornfield fifth (17:18.5) and Conrad West sixth (17:19).
“The first two miles they held back a little bit to try to get our pack together and we were trying to get as many guys close to 17 as possible,” Ray Lawson said. “We had three guys under 17 minutes and we had three more under 17:30. In cross country if you can get that pack – especially one through five – if you can get a tight compression there and bring those five, six, seven guys along and get a little closer to the leaders, that really helps in team scoring.”
A running start in the fall
Several runners from Corning competed in a club fall season. The Corning girls won the Northeast High School Club Cross Country Championships in late November and have continued to impress during the spring season. Some ran during an indoor track season that included outdoor competition because of COVID restrictions.
“We’re very fortunate here in Corning that we had parents who were willing to set up a club in the fall and make that work,” Lawson said. “The reality is our kids are pretty fit and the kids who are here trained through this pandemic.”
West is the only senior on the Corning boys team, leading to a lot of optimism in a fall 2021 season that he hopes will include state championships. Lawson said it has been “amazing” the girls team continues to improve following its club championship.
New leader in Elmira
Amy Balash is in her first season as head coach at Elmira, which previously had been coached by Ben Cardamone, a legend in Section 4 coaching circles who retired as a coach in January.
Balash coached Elmira Free Academy in 2010, the team’s final season before it combined with Southside to form the Express. She has 12 years of experience coaching modified track & field and last season filled in for Cardamone during the abbreviated outdoor season after he had knee surgery. Until January, she was expecting to be an assistant this spring.
“Stepping into the head coaching position was definitely a curveball for me, but it’s been good,” she said. “The kids, they’re excited to be back out there running, but definitely with the pandemic, some of them didn’t get very much running going on.”
The programs competed against each other March 20 at Elmira’s makeshift course behind Ernie Davis Academy. Tuesday marked the first 5K for a lot of Express runners in 18 months, Balash said.
Signs of progress included finishes of seventh from Benjamin Allen (17:23.3) and ninth from Isaac May (17:50.2) after Corning swept the first 10 spots in the boys meet at EDA.
Elmira’s boys have only three seniors and the lone senior competing for the girls is Lizzie Ostrander. With team wins highly unlikely Tuesday, Balash wanted her runners to focus on improvement.
“For our kids the focus was, can you get closer to the person who was in front of you?” Balash said. “Can you bring your overall pace down from that meet because our course was a shorter course than what their course is? … How much closer can you be to someone who beat you last time? Can you beat somebody who beat you last time.”
Adjusting to masks
Ray Lawson said runners are becoming more accustomed to masks, but it remains a hurdle. Runners can remove masks temporarily if there is enough distance from others.
“We started running with the masks when high school sports started up in indoors and it was very, very difficult,” he said. “It was difficult to train, they couldn’t hit their paces. Then after about three or four weeks they started to be able to adapt to be able to train a little better with the masks on. Then as we’ve raced, we’ve gotten better racing with the masks on. I still think it’s a hindrance and it affects some kids more than others.”
Section 4 has scheduled an end-of-season meet for April 24 at Chenango Valley State Park. Lawson said he isn’t sure how that meet will be set up, mentioning the possibility of teams running at different times and results being merged afterward.
Corning and Elmira both have dual meets remaining against Horseheads and Ithaca.