By Rob Tucker
ELMA - As one walks down the road overlooking the impressive expanse of the Elma Meadows Golf Course - site of this year's New York State Public High School Athletic Association Cross Country Championships - there is a sign that reads, "Have a great day at Elma Meadows."
Well, the Maple Grove Lady Red Dragons certainly heeded that imperative on Saturday morning.
Led by Hope Pietrocarlo, who has already had a season to remember thanks to her victories in both the county and sectional championship meets earlier this season, five Maple Grove runners placed in the top 25, helping the squad edge rival Greenwich of Section 2, 42-63, and clinch an impressive third straight Class D state title.
Four of those top five runners finished the hilly, 5,000-meter course in less than 20 minutes.
Pietrocarlo took third in just 18:57 (33 seconds off Greenwich winner Madeline Montague's mark of 18:24.5) while fellow Lady Red Dragon Megan Marsh placed 10th (19:44.4), Caroline Benson 14th (19:53.7), Taylor Norris 16th (19:59.4) and Abby Sirwatka 25th (20:30.1).
"Four girls under 20 (minutes) is great," Maple Grove coach Robert "Doc" Rappole said. "You never really see that, so it was really impressive and I was extremely pleased with them.
"The girls ran tremendously. They did as well as you could have expected."
Priority one for the group was topping Greenwich, the last team to win a state title (2009) before Maple Grove began its current run. All racers were crucial to topping the Witches, Rappole noted, but Sirwatka's effort deserved special attention.
The eighth-grader's time, which was a personal best by a minute, pushed her across the finish line ahead of a pair of Greenwich runners.
"Megan ran a real smart race. Caroline, Taylor, Ally (Saar) and my senior, Stephanie (Krempa), were also great," Rappole began, "but Abby (had a personal best) by a minute and that was huge having the No. 5 girl come (across) in front of two of Greenwich's girls. That was the race right there."
Pietrocarlo, meanwhile, captured third place in the state meet for the second straight year.
"I couldn't be happier with the finish," she said with a smile. "I'm just so happy. I made all-state for the third year in a row and am really proud of the way the team raced today."
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Rappole noted that he thought she might have started a too bit fast, but showed a special kind of determination by holding on to the finish.
"Hope took it out a little fast," he explained. "She wanted to run for the win so she went out front while the two Greenwich kids sat back. But that's all right because she held on, and that takes some heart."
In the Class C competition, the state's second-ranked squad, Fredonia, finished fifth overall with 147 points while top-ranked Bronxville was first with 36 points. Leading Fredonia was Clare Foley (40th, 20:30.7), Michaela Tramuta (53rd, 20:50.8) and Lauren Reyda, who placed 61st with a time of 21:00.7 despite an injury.
Also having good showings in the final race of the season were Holly Eliason of Sherman, who Rappole said "had a very good race" when she finished 11th in 19:45.1; Rebecca King (31st, 20:37.7) and Katie Pacy (32nd, 20:49), also of Sherman; Silver Creek's Emma Seiders (28th, 20:34) and Hannah Seiders (39th, 20:59); Kirsten Holmberg of Falconer, who placed 33rd in the Class C race; and Olivia Zabrodsky of Class A Jamestown (68th, 20:03.8).
''(Olivia's) time ... was the fastest she'd ever run the course at Elma Meadows,'' Jamestown coach Steve Sipior said. ''An even greater honor than her trip to the state meet, however, was that she was awarded the Section 6 Class A Sportsmanship Award. Olivia has had a great season. You only need to spend five minutes getting to know her to understand that she is very deserving of such an award.''
Meanwhile, for only the second time this season, Corey Wefing, the state's second-ranked runner, didn't win a race in which he competed.
Instead, the Maple Grove junior placed fifth in the Class D competition, running the course at a 5:21 mile pace for a finishing time of 16:32.4 - his best ever at Elma Meadows.
Despite the solid outcome, however, Wefing admitted he was somewhat disappointed.
"My time was my best here, but I just couldn't get it done," he said. "There's always next year, at least. I had higher expectations, but those guys were fast, they ran very well and Gabe Rodriguez has been running some great races lately."
Rodriguez, of Geneseo, was the top finisher with a time of 15:59.9.
"I thought Corey went out and tried to get her done, and that's all you can ask," Rappole said. "He was a bit (disappointed). The hard thing is that when you get to where Corey is at, when you get to be a junior and a senior, if you aren't first you're last. Unfortunately you get to that point and people only ask, 'Did you win?'
"He's competitive and he raced great, but if you aren't first place you're disappointed. He raced really well against some good competition, though, so he should be proud of himself."
Meanwhile, Wefing's teammate, Josh Ahlstrom, a senior in his first full season of cross-country competition, took 42nd. His time was 17:50.
"Josh had a really good race," Rappole said. "This year he met all expectations and exceeded them. To have a kid come out as a senior and do what he's done is impressive."
Behind Ahlstrom, Sherman's Ryan Carpenter was 55th in 18:03 while the Maple Grove duo of Frank Zuroski (18:05.8) and Colin Green (18:41.4) were 56th and 73rd, respectively.
In Class C, Southwestern's Ryan Hetrick and Jordan Powers had solid outings. Hetrick, a freshman, was 40th with a time of 17:12.2 while Powers, a junior, was right behind with a time of 17:15.9.
''I was really thrilled with their first go at the state meet,'' Southwestern coach Dan Lewis said. ''I think both of them improved upon their times from the (sectional championships last week) at Elma Meadows.''
NOTES: For complete results of the NYSPHSAA Cross Country Championships, visit www.leonetiming.com.