Montgomery County

Four teams representing six schools race in dizzying WAC cross country meet

Canajoharie/Fort Plain's Sophie Xiao finishes the girls' race during a Western Athletic Conference cross country meet on Saturday at the Fort Plain Sports Complex. (Adam Shinder)

Canajoharie/Fort Plain's Sophie Xiao finishes the girls' race during a Western Athletic Conference cross country meet on Saturday at the Fort Plain Sports Complex. (Adam Shinder)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, High School Sports, Sports

FORT PLAIN — It might’ve been well outside the norm for most everyone competing around her, but for Canajoharie/Fort Plain’s Sophie Xiao, it was nothing out of the ordinary.

It was her first-ever cross country meet, after all.

While Xiao, a junior, runs track and field in the spring, during the fall, she’s traditionally been a soccer player at Fort Plain. With the Western Athletic Conference moving soccer to the Fall II season starting in March, Xiao joined up with the C/FP cross country team this fall. She missed last week’s opening meet while taking the SATs, so she had no frame of reference other than what she experienced Saturday morning as 38 runners from four teams — representing six schools in total — went through staggered starts at the Fort Plain Sports Complex and left coaches spending nearly an hour after the race cross-checking times and ironing out the final results.

“It’s my first year,” Xiao said, “so I don’t really know how it’s supposed to be, but it is weird.”

Xiao finished fourth overall in the girls’ race behind the B-K-W/Middleburgh duo of Michelle Puzulis and Andie Burton, finishing the 2.7-mile course in 20 minutes, 49 seconds. B-K-W/Middleburgh was victorious in the team competition, beating C/FP 24-35 in the girls’ event and 23-30 in the boys’ race.

B-K-W/Middleburgh’s Tim Jackson was the overall winner in the boys’ race in 17:16, with OESJ’s Manny Root in second.

Two of the four teams at the meet — OESJ and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons — ran as incomplete squads without the five boys’ or girls’ runners needed to count for team scoring.

In a meet that featured nearly as many acronyms as there were runners, the real mental gymnastics was left up to the coaching staffs.

Runners started in groups of four — one from each team, going from fastest to slowest projected times — with one-minute intervals between each group. Coaches from each team timed their own runners before checking with the full list of finishing times kept by Canajoharie/Fort Plain to come up with the eventual leaderboard.

With only two complete teams, the team scoring ended up relatively simple once the final list was assembled.

“I guess there’s an easier way, but we didn’t do it today — or I didn’t do it today,” Canajoharie/Fort Plain coach Charlie Karker said.

An incomplete squad meant Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons coach Blair Hilton was able to focus more on her runners’ individual performances than keeping track of a team score.

But, even that’s difficult because of the short preseason and the race format making a traditional pacing strategy harder to maintain.

“With so little time to prep, it’s been a challenge to push them so quickly from the get-go,” Hilton said. “Then, they don’t have that person in front of them to keep up with that they know they need to pass. It’s more of a timing thing, which is very hard, mentally, when you’re running.”

The staggered format can be especially difficult on newcomers to the sport, Karker said.

“We have a number of inexperienced kids who have never run cross country,” he said. “They’ve run track, but they’ve never run cross country, and with the spacing out, it doesn’t help them. When they’re in practice, they’re usually running with another person and they pace themselves off of that. It makes it difficult when they get to a meet.”

Xiao is one of those runners, but if there was any confusion in her first meet, it didn’t show.

Not that it was easy.

“This is my first meet, and it was really difficult,” she said. “I’m not going to lie. Running is hard, but you get this feeling of satisfaction at the end, and that’s nice.”

BOYS

B-K-W/MIDDLEBURGH 23, CANAJOHARIE/FORT PLAIN 30

B-K-W/MIDDLEBURGH 15, NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS INC.

B-K-W/MIDDLEBURGH 15, OESJ INC.

CANAJOHARIE/FORT PLAIN 15, NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS INC.

CANAJOHARIE/FORT PLAIN 15, OESJ INC.

At Fort Plain Sports Complex (2.7 miles) — Jackson (B-K-W/M), 17:16; Root (OESJ), 18:07; Smith (B-K-W/M), 19:01; Wylie (ND-BG), 19:08; Martin (B-K-W/M), 19:13.

GIRLS

B-K-W/MIDDLEBURGH 24, CANAJOHARIE-FORT PLAIN 35

B-K-W/MIDDLEBURGH 15, NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS INC.

B-K-W/MIDDLEBURGH 15, OESJ INC.

CANAJOHARIE/FORT PLAIN 15, NOTRE DAME-BISHOP GIBBONS INC.

CANAJOHARIE/FORT PLAIN 15, OESJ INC.

At Fort Plain Sports Complex (2.7 miles) — Puzulis (B-K-W/M), 19:48; Burton (B-K-W/M), 20:21; Karker (C/FP), 20:47; Xiao (C/FP), 20:49; Verbicky (ND/BG), 20:59.

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