Shenendehowa girls' cross country coach Rob Cloutier was envisioning a competitive run last weekend, and got so much more when his young cast upended national power Fayetteville-Manlius at the Chittenango Invitational.
"This is my 10th year coaching cross country here, and we have run against them before," Cloutier said. "We came close one time."
It wasn't last year, when F-M won the state Class A crown with 24 points, and Shenendehowa was second with 79. Both teams lost four seniors from their top seven, including Shenendehowa leaders Hannah Reale and Olivia Lomascolo.
"It was kind of the perfect storm," said Cloutier, whose team scored 43 points to F-M's 60 in the Varsity 1 race at Chittenango. "We ran pretty well based on where we are in the season. We put eight in front of their fifth runner. It's probably their thinnest team in a decade, according to their coach, and one of his best runners finished 20th."
Shenendehowa saw an opening and took advantage in posting the confidence-boosting victory. It came against a Fayetteville-Manlius team looking to add to its 11 consecutive state championships, and its streak of 11 Nike Cross Nationals titles in 12 years. There is a good chance the squads meet again later in the fall.
The Plainsmen know it, too.
"It's like beating the New England Patriots for the first time. On that day, they beat the state and national champions," Cloutier said. "The girls know big things are possible. For them, my warning was, 'Let's get back to business. Fayetteville-Manlus is going to get better. They always do. We've got to get better.'"
Juniors Hannah Belleville and Jada Dennis paced Shenendehowa with third and fifth-place runs, freshman Luccabella Hotaling placed 10th, junior Jade Dennis was 12th, and senior Madeleine Festin finished 13th. Senior Lily Digman followed in 18th, and eighth-grader Amanda Curtin was 21st.
"This is by far my youngest team, and my most inexperienced team, but I've got super competitive kids," Cloutier said. "We might have something here."
Belleville, a complementary runner a year ago as a first-year cross country runner, impressed Cloutier with her performance.
"She put together a solid summer and is one of our leaders. She was looking to do something in our first invitational," he said. "Just before three miles she made a commanding move and put an F-M kid away."
F-M's Claire Waters won the Race 1 3.1-mile contest and its other first-team all-state runner, Phoebe White, took 20th. White, coming back from an injury, is projected to post much better finishes as the season progresses. F-M runners also placed fourth, eighth and 27th.
"When I told the girls we won they started jumping up and down. I told them to act like you expected it. Act like, 'It's what we do,'" Cloutier said. "I wanted to set that tone with them."