BURNT HILLS — Chip Button isn’t shying away from it.
This year, the coach’s Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake boys’ cross country team is that good.
“It’s — by far — our best,” Button said.
A confident coach? Maybe.
But he’s probably right, too.
While the Spartans previously have won six state championships and are the reigning state titlists, this year’s group is an overwhelming favorite to win a Class B state championship Saturday at Wayne Central School. Burnt Hills has been the top-ranked team in the state poll all season and is coming off back-to-back dominant performances at Saratoga Spa State Park.
“They’ve run races that, just average-wise, are so much faster than any other year we’ve had,” Button said.
The veteran coach said he can’t remember a race from a previous year at Saratoga Spa State Park where his program ran better than the 15:32.42 average time it achieved at this year’s sectional championships — and that mark was more than 13 seconds worse than what the Spartans averaged at the prior week’s Suburban Council Championships.
“As well as we’ve run in some other years, that has to be our best performance ever,” Button said. “That’s the best race in our history.”
While Burnt Hills has been expected to win big throughout the 2017 season, junior Tyler Berg said the Spartans have been able to block out the pressure on race day.
“We feel we have to live up to that ranking, but you have to put that aside at each meet and just do your best,” said Berg, who won last week’s individual sectional title. “Coach has really helped us with that.”
Juniors Berg, Evan Brennan, Aidan Gillooley and Nick Hunziker will represent the Spartans at the state championships along with senior Michael Messere, and sophomores Kevin Board and David Metacarpa. Button said the group is a self-motivated one that decided on its own last Saturday to preview what is expected to be a muddy championship course out in Section V.
“We know it’s a big meet for us,” Brennan said. “We know the conditions from previewing the course, so we know it’s going to be a hard race.”
“So we’re going to run as a group more than we did at sectionals,’ Gillooley said. “We want to stay together as a pack, stay together as close as we can.”
If they do?
“Hopefully we come away with another state championship,” Berg said.
After the state championships, the Spartans’ attention will turn to the other postseason races ahead of them. There’s next year, too. Six of the team’s top-seven runners will be back next season, so this season’s team might not hold onto the distinction as the program’s best-ever group for long.
“We can keep improving,” Gillooley said.