SCHENECTADY — Shaker High School girls once again took the top two spots in the Division I race at Saturday’s Everett T. Grout Cross Country Invitation at Central Park, but unlike a year ago, the finish wasn’t all that close.
Leonni Griffin defended her title with a 16-second win, and even more, the eighth-grader further enhanced the possibility of one day becoming the meet’s most success female competitor.
“My plan going into the race was to win the title,” the 12-year-old Griffin said.
“She was locked in,” Shaker assistant coach Arnel Joyner said after Griffin clocked the day’s fastest time, a 15:25.71 for 2.75 miles. “You could see the determination.”
Griffin credited Shaker senior Tori Mariano with an assist as the pair set the pace. Mariano would finish in second in 15:41.73 in a continuation of her own fine season.
“We always push each other throughout the race and I love having her next to me,” Griffin said. “We ran with each other the majority of the race, and Tori helped me to stay up with her instead of dropping back. She gave me the confidence to stay with her.”
Griffin made her move on the last stretch of road that comes before a dip through a wooded area and is followed by the final grassy stretch of about 100 meters.
Griffin got past schoolmate Kaleigh Higgins last year in the wooded area when she won in 15:56.74 and Higgins placed second in 16:00.04. Higgins, a freshman, was fifth Saturday with a 16:05.01 as part of Shaker’s runner-up team effort behind Greenwich.
“When we got to the top of the hill I was thinking I had to go if I want to defend my title again this year.” Griffin said. “I picked it up and was able to keep it the rest of the race.”
Two girls have prevailed at the Grout Run four times, including Shaker’s Maryanna Lansing from 2011-14. Caitlin McTague of Niskayuna won there from 1999-2001 and again in 2003.
“We talk about going into battle with someone,” Joyner said. “Leonni is that someone. She’s competitive and she has that internal drive.”
Bethlehem freshman Rylee Davis is another one of Section II’s outstanding young female runners. She placed second in Saturdays Division II race behind her schoolmate, senior Gillian Roeder, and the duo led the Eagles to the team championship.
The Mohonasen girls beat out 41 teams to secure the White Division championship with 137 points at Saturday’s Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University. Mohonasen junior Kate Sherman and sophomore Natalie Sawyer placed third and eighth, respectively, in a field of 343 runners.
The Niskayuna girls were second in the Brown Division with 138 points. Sophomore Liyat Kebbede was 10th among 262 runners.