SARATOGA SPRINGS — Julian Franjieh was the leader in the clubhouse at Saratoga Spa State Park, but not after having stepped off the 18th green with a low golf score.
No, the “clubhouse” in this case was an archway at the Hall of Springs, where the Niskayuna junior and his cross country team were packing up their gear to leave, before the Suburban Council Championship meet was even over.
With staggered team starts to accommodate social distancing, Franjieh posted a 15:17:22 out of Niskayuna’s 11:30 time slot, and that stood up for the individual championship after Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Shenendehowa and Saratoga Springs ran their heats later.
Shen’s Nathan Brimhall had the second fastest time on the 5K course (15:30.76), and Ryan Bush ran 15:44.80 to lead the Blue Streaks to the team title with 42 points to 58 for Burnt Hills.
With the Section II championships, public high school state meet and Federation meet canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Suburban championship represented the pinnacle of the Section II season. With 12 teams taking up starting slots from 8 a.m. to 12:40 p.m., there was a subdued feel to what usually is a loud, boisterous meet.
There was a total of 135 finishers, but everyone only ran with his teammates. Franjieh finished almost two minutes ahead of the next closest Silver Warrior, Jack Schiavo, so when he was on the verge of struggling with a mile left, he had only his own internal race to draw upon to close out a fast time.
“Honestly, it was the toughest race I’ve ever had to do, considering I had to be alone for most of it,” Franjieh said. “Going out, I thought I was going too slow, and I had to push myself every step of the way.
“I’d say it was the two-mile mark where I was really feeling a lot of pain, and I just had to mentally clear my mind and just go as fast as I could possibly go.”
“He wanted to run around 15:20, and we equated that to 5:02 [mile pace] on this course,” Niskayuna coach Jason DeRocco said. “When he was coming up Ferndell at the two-mile mark, he was flirting right with 10, 10:05, so he knew he had to drop the hammer.
“But in some of the longer tempo runs we’ve done, he did a four-mile training run in 21:45. So the guts were there, and because he’s so motivated to do it, he found it. It was awesome.”
It was only Niskayuna’s second opportunity of the season to run on what is the most popular and heavily used course in Section II.
Franjieh was able to push himself to a personal record at the state park by a substantial 13 seconds.
“I told myself this is one of my only chances this season to run at this course, and it’s definitely one of my favorite courses to go at, so I told myself I had to leave it all here and finish on empty. I definitely tried to make that happen the last mile.”
“When we got on the line, a lot of people would say there’s no atmosphere here, because there’s usually a crowd,” DeRocco said. “But we told them this is the purest cross country run they’re ever going to have, because it’s them against the course.”
Saratoga went last on the schedule and finished first as a team, as Bush, Brady Tooker (16:15:49), Dawson Tooker (16:22.71), Max Fredette (16:25.42) and Evan Barthelmas (16:36.35) scored, with Duke McCauley (16:44.08) and Owen Mansfield (16:48.22) not far behind.
After Burnt Hills in second, Shenendehowa was third with 79 points.
Bush said he was aware of some of the other times that had already been posted, and, like Franjieh, had a moment in the middle of the race when he had to gather himself and get it together.
“It’s a lot different, because you have to really take it from the gun and keep thinking about the other kids who ran really fast,” he said. “Our team got out really well.
“I kind of fell off in the middle of the race, the second mile, but I tried to kick it in strong. I didn’t feel amazing, I felt OK and got off my rhythm, but then I tried to get back on this last 400 [meters]. But it was a pretty good day, and we won as a team, which is great.”
“I was thrilled with it,” Saratoga head coach Shane Zanetti said. “It wasn’t perfect. I don’t think our lead group ran as fast as they would’ve liked. But it was a tremendous effort from our second wave. Our normal six, seven, eight really stepped up, and we had our top seven runners all in the top 19. It was a testament to it being a true team sport.
“From the beginning of the summer, we’ve been saying whatever the situation is, we’re going to try to be our very, very best at that situation. As the season progressed, these guys were having success and were believing we had a good shot to win today.”
“Overall, we had our best race of the season, but it’s weird, because we’re in a championship, guys are finishing and you have no idea, like, who won,” Shenendehowa coach Lance Jordan said. “Hats off to Saratoga, because they were outstanding today. But it’s a weird feeling as a coach. It’s almost like, let’s line up in soccer and let them have penalty kicks.”
Minus a big crowd of spectators, the Blue Streaks had at least one extra interested party, as Aidan Tooker, a state meet runner-up and Fed meet champion for Saratoga in 2015, was on hand to watch his brothers Brady and Dawson.
“They’ve been crushing it,” he said. “They show up, and they have a fortitude and show up with the same mentality as if they were racing people, and I’m super-impressed by that, because it’s not the same, right? As much you try to pretend it is.”
Burnt Hills would have been poised to win its eighth straight Section II Class B championship, but will settle for runner-up to Saratoga at Suburbans and the prospect of next season, after what was going to be a little bit of a rebuild in 2020, anyway.
Ryan Allison was fourth overall (15:45.28) for the Spartans, Peter Fulgieri ran a big race to finish fifth (16:01.10) and Matthew Rounds was sixth (16:05.74).
“If you look for positives, I think all those kids will benefit next year when they get in a real race, because they’ve learned how to run on their own,” coach Chip Button said. “A bunch of those guys were on the track team last spring and had one week, and then nothing, so I know they’re grateful. I think we would’ve won another sectionals and would’ve been one of the top two or three teams in Class B [in the state], but we have next year. And this is a real young team.”
“Next year we’re going to be very strong, and I’m really hopeful for next year,” Allison said. “A lot of the kids were dealing with injuries, including myself, and that affected some of our times, but I’m really happy that we were able to build it up together for this one final meet.
“In the end, I think it was a good year. Even though it wasn’t perfect, it’s going to pay off next year. When the races are back and when it does really matter like it did last year, we’re going to be ready for that.”
Team scores: Saratoga Springs 42, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 58, Shenendehowa 79, Columbia 106, Niskayuna 143, Shaker 169, Guilderland 176, Bethlehem 218, Colonie 266, Ballston Spa 283, Albany 294, Schenectady 330.
Individuals: Julian Franjieh (Nisk), 15:17.22; Nathan Brimhall (Shen), 15:30.76; Ryan Bush (Sara), 15:44.80; Ryan Allison (BH), 15:45.28; Peter Fulgieri (BH), 16:01.10; Matthew Rounds (BH), 16:05.74; Michael Clay (Shen), 16:14.50; Brady Tooker (Sara), 16:15.49; Dawson Tooker (Sara), 16:22.71; Max Fredette (Sara), 16:25.42.
Nick Grock (BH), 16:27.59; Evan Barthelmas (Sara), 16:36.35; Nathan Davis (Colum), 16:38.12; Evan Farnan (Colum), 16:42.83; Will Cusato (Guild), 16:43.14; Vinny Levchenko (Shaker), 16:43.39; Duke McCauley (Sara), 16:44.08; Jack Hislop (Shen), 16:46.49; Owen Mansfield (Sara), 16:48.22; Logan Ploss (Coolum), 16:51.06.