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The Blackwell Blog

Great runners start here

In talking about the start of the cross country season, which formally begins with meets at East Syracuse-Minoa, South Jefferson, Jordan-Elbridge and Cazenovia, we must address an obvious point.

Four years ago, we had, in my view, the most proud moment in the history of Central New York high school sports. Lopez Lomong, who journeyed from war-torn Africa to Tully and found freedom, peace and citizenship here in America, led the U.S. Olympic team into the Opening Ceremony in Beijing, carrying the Stars and Stripes.

Lomong ran there, and made the Olympic team again for London a month ago. True, he didn't get a medal, but just the fact that any athlete that starred in high school sports in this area can reach the pinnacle of world athletics is something to be happy about.

So I hope that a lot of local runners get a chance to go out to Tully Friday night, where Lomong will appear at the "Run With An Olympian" event, starting at 6 p.m. It's for a great cause.

As we all know, budget cuts have hit high school sports, and even Tully, with its remarkable track history, is not immune. The indoor team for 2012-13 is not funded, and "Run With An Olympian" is raising funds for that program. All proceeds, from the $10 entry fee to $15 T-shirts, will benefit the indoor program, which needs $10,000 to get back going. Details can be found here.

Oh, as to the season itself, back to the theme of immense talent. A lot of it is found at Fayetteville-Manlius, running under the masterful guidance of Bill Aris.

The girls Hornets are close to unstoppable. That happens once you have six consecutive national championships on the belt, and a seventh is expected. Six of the top seven F-M runners returned, led by Jillian Fanning, who sits near the top of the national rankings. West Genesee's Laura Leff, back from an injured foot that sidelined her in the spring, is also among the nation's top 10.

Then there's the F-M boys team, defending state Class A champions, who also have a national championship contender in senior Nick Ryan, who took home the 2011 state individual cross country title and also got two more state championships in the spring, breaking a Section III record in the mile. Team-wise, the Hornets will get a state challenge from Arlington or Saratoga, but how close will it get?

Who else can vie for state honors among the Section III crowd? Well, the Skaneateles girls could do so in Class C, starting out with the no. 2 ranking behind Bronxville as Madeline Adams and Marcellus transfer Maggie Dunn lead the way. Tully is no. 3, though, and Cazenovia is no. 6, so it should be hyper-competitive.

Don't cry too much for Marcellus, either, because the girls Mustangs could still grab sectional Class B honors and, on the boys side, Ryan Manahan is still wearing green and is the state favorite in Class B after a second-place state finish last fall. Baldwinsville's Alec Peinkofer enjoys a high ranking, too, though any Class A runner gets lost in F-M's shadow.

Class B, team-wise, appears wide-open on the boys front, while Class C includes a bevy of contenders including Solvay, Tully, Hannibal, Holland Patent and Ilion. Beaver River is a co-favorite for the state title in Class D, right alongside Maple Grove and just ahead of Weedsport, Onondaga and LaFayette.

In girls Class D, Remsen, who featured those remarkable two-sport girls (including the O'Connor sisters) in recent years, might get overtaken by Beaver River, and Sauquoit Valley, long a Class C power moved down to D due to enrollment, should factor in the fight, too, as should South Lewis and Cooperstown.

As always, they start out in summer-like heat and keep running until the snow falls. Maybe that's why the runners here are so good, because they deal with everything long before they get to the college ranks, and thus are ready for anything - all the way to the Olympics, as Lopez Lomong proved.

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