FORT PLAIN — Madison Relyea erupted onto the Section II cross country scene in 2016 when, as an eighth-grader, she qualified for her first state championship. The next year, she qualified for states again — the second of four consecutive trips — despite being the only female runner in the Mayfield program.
Saturday, Relyea’s final high school cross country race ended with a smiling legion of teammates — most of whom she’d personally recruited into the squad — and both individual and team titles at Saturday’s Western Athletic Conference championship meet.
“That’s such a change from where I was a couple years ago,” Relyea said. “Words cannot describe how happy I am that I got to finish out my high school years with a bunch of my best friends.”
Despite starting in the first of three heats that made up Saturday’s championship, Relyea’s individual title was essentially sewn up by the time the senior crossed the finish line in 19 minutes, 7.48 seconds. Relyea’s closest competitor, Fonda-Fultonville’s Haley Clear, started in the same heat and finished 86 seconds behind her.
The margin between Relyea and Clear was bigger than the 83-second margin between Clear and 10th-place finisher Claire Scram of Berne-Knox-Westerlo/Middleburgh.
“I just tried to have fun with it, enjoy my last race,” Relyea said. “Of course, I wanted to go hard and finish it out as hard as I could, but it was awesome. I heard my coaches cheering for me, and then for three of my other teammates, so it was so cool knowing that we were really clustered together.”
That Relyea was far ahead of the rest of the pack was no surprise. The senior, who is verbally committed to the University of Connecticut, captured her fifth consecutive WAC title Saturday. Last year, she became Mayfield’s first Section II cross country champion when she dominated the Class D field, then went on to a runner-up finish in the Class D race at states.
It’s the growth of the program around her that’s been Relyea’s biggest source of pride. From running solo as a freshman, Saturday she led a pack of Panthers that triumphed in a tight three-team race for the team championship.
Mayfield finished with 59 points, two ahead of runner-up Fonda-Fultonville with B-K-W/Middleburgh — which started in the second of three heats — another six points back in third.
It was Mayfield’s depth that led to the triumph. The Panthers only had one other top-10 finisher — Delaney LaFontaine in seventh — but the performances of Fianna Halloran (14th), Tatjana Bjelica (16th) and Lilliana Powers (22nd) were crucial in securing the ultra-close team race.
“I started coaching because Maddi didn’t have a coach when she was a freshman,” Mayfield coach Rebecca Newkirk said. “It’s been amazing since then. She’s a master recruiter, and teams just want to join her and be in on the success. We’ve created this awesome team that’s been so fun this season to have this big group. The kids really made the most of it.”
With the season wrapping up Saturday, Relyea and Mayfield will be left wondering what could have been if there had been postseason competition in Section II and statewide this fall.
It’s a disappointment, for sure, but one she prefers not to dwell on.
“That was a really hard thing to swallow,” Relyea said, “but after we knew there was no chance of it happening, it was like ‘Why be upset about it? Let’s enjoy what we have.’”
“They could’ve been pretty upset,” Newkirk said. “They had a chance to make it to states and they knew it, but they were really positive and just really had fun.”
That said, as excited as she is for Relyea’s future prospects, Newkirk’s not quite ready to cope with coaching a cross country team without her star.
“I’m in denial about it,” she said with a chuckle.
Relyea’s got plenty more to look forward to in her senior season. She’s hoping to defend her state individual combined Nordic skiing title this winter and try to chase down an elusive championship as a distance runner during the spring outdoor track season.
And the same team that was by Relyea’s side Saturday will be along with her for the ride in both remaining seasons.
“They are my best friends,” she said. “Every day being able to practice with them is amazing and such a privilege.”
Team scores: Mayfield 59, Fonda-Fultonville 61, B-K-W/Middleburgh 68, Canajoharie/Fort Plain 87, Duanesburg 98, Galway 128, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons 194.
Individuals: Relyea (M), 19:07.48; Clear (F-F), 20:33.15; Harris (D), 20:44.30; Puzulis (B-K-W/M), 21:04.70; Miller (F-F), 21:27.79; Jordan (G), 21:35.90; LaFontaine (M), 21:38.73; Schaffer (C/FP), 21:51.02; Charbonneau (F-F), 21:55.07; Scram (B-K-W/M), 21:56.40.