SARATOGA SPRINGS — The Saratoga Springs girls’ cross country team was in Federation meet form for the Suburban Council Championships.
If you were to assign a number to that, it would be 15, which is the minimum points for a winning team when scoring the first five runners overall on a 1-2-3-4-5 scale.
The storied Blue Streaks program had never nailed a 15 at the Suburban meet, but did so at Saratoga Spa State Park on Sunday with the five fastest times, complemented by three more runners placing in the top 11 overall finishers.
Junior Ella Kurto led the way in 17:10.3, eight seconds off her personal record for the 5k course, run during the Section II championships last year.
She was followed by Mackenzie Hart (17:39.9), Sheridan Wheeler (17:40.1), Emily Bush (17:47.5) and Anya Belisle (17:49.4). Bethlehem’s Rylee Davis (17:54.7) was the only other runner under 18 minutes.
Saratoga Spring is used to scoring 15 in dual meets, when they’re running against maybe just one other team. But doing it at the Suburban championships, even during a season significantly compromised by COVID-19 restrictions and cancellations, required a dominating performance, and the Blue Streaks delivered one.
“I thought it was possible, because every other team we’ve gone 15 against except Shaker,” Kurto said. “The one girl [Shaker’s Leonni Griffin], we were expecting maybe she’d get in [the top five], maybe she wouldn’t. We didn’t know what type of day she’d have. But I’m grateful we got 15 today. Everybody stepped up today.”
Griffin finished ninth overall in 18:17.9, the fastest time by a freshman not wearing a Saratoga Springs singlet.
A theme all weekend — the boys’ Suburban meet was Saturday — was how teams and individuals would handle and adjust to the format.
For the girls’ meet, each team started at separate times, beginning with Ballston Spa at 8 a.m. and finishing with Saratoga at 12:10 p.m.
After Davis, who ran in the second heat at 8:10 a.m., finished in sub-18, her time held the top spot until four hours later, when the Saratoga cavalry charge came in.
“Honestly, I wasn’t expecting the time I did, I expected it to be a little slower,” Kurto said. “I was a little disappointed I didn’t get my PR, which is 17:02.
“It’ll definitely make me a lot stronger mentally, knowing I can hit these times on my own, and with the team pushing me.”
“They are mentally tough,” Saratoga Springs co-coach Linda Kranick said. “We knew something [cancellations] was coming. I guess now, if we ever get back to normal, they’ll appreciate it a lot more. But they are a very tough, tough, competitive group.”
In a typical year, this would’ve been the weekend of the state Federation meet, four weeks after the Suburban championships.
In Saratoga’s case, the next target after the late-November Fed meet would’ve been the Nike Cross Nationals (NXN) in Portland, Oregon, in early December, which the Saratoga Springs runners won as Kinetic Running Club last year. Like most big postseason meets, it’s been canceled in 2020.
“We’re used to going this far in the season, and the weather is always questionable this time of year, and they’re used to that, too,” Kranick said. “So they’re very adaptable, besides.”
“We definitely gained a better mental state this year, especially with this whole COVID thing,” Kurto said. “It just makes you a much stronger athlete. The temperature out was pretty perfect for us. I’d have loved for it to rain during the race, that would’ve been perfect.
“We’re disappointed that the meets are canceled, but it’s a lot better for everybody’s health. I’d rather have everybody be safe than do all the other meets. I’m more grateful for the dual meets. Don’t take anything for granted.”
That was echoed by Griffin, who missed her target time of 18:00, but is willing to chalk it up to not having fast runners from other teams to pace off of and chase.
“I’m really just glad that I can have a cross country season,” she said. “Summer training was really difficult, because I was going alone. If I was going on an eight-mile run, I would run eight miles alone, and it would be very challenging, mentally. I do miss the settings of, like, the state meet and having everybody on the line and the adrenaline rush of everyone around you.”
Team scores: Saratoga Springs 15, Shenendehowa 98, Niskayuna 105, Shaker 106, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 131, Guilderland 148, Bethlehem 156, Ballston Spa 162, Columbia 254, Albany 310, Schenectady 349.
Individuals: Ella Kurto (Sara), 17:10.3; Mackenzie Hart (Sara), 17:39.9; Sheridan Wheeler (Sara), 17:40.1; Emily Bush (Sara), 17:47.5; Anya Belisle (Sara), 17:49.4; Rylee Davis (Beth), 17:54.7; Christina DeMeo (Sara), 18:02.6; Luccabella Hotaling (Shen), 18:05.9; Leonni Griffin (Shaker), 18:17.9; Alycia Hart (Sara), 18:21.0.
Catherine Mongan (Sara), 18:21.9; Mia Paolino (BH), 18:38.8; Kaleigh Higgins (Shaker), 18:43.6; Orit Shiang (Nisk), 18:45.1; Brenna McLaughlin (Shen), 19:07.5; Liyat Kebbede (Nisk), 19:08.7; Alyssa Kearns (Shaker), 19:15.9; Alexandria Vellekoo (Guild), 19:18.8; Makayla Kruzinski (BSpa), 19:20.6; Mary Kate Cestaro (Nisk), 19:21.9.