BY MICHAEL KELLY
NISKAYUNA — John Sharkey, the Niskayuna girls’ cross country head coach, had a succinct summary for what has made the Niskayuna Cross Country Ekiden Invitational a success.
“It’s a fun meet and kids like to come to it,” he said. “Basically, it’s a cross-country relay race.”
This year’s Sept. 5 running of the Ekiden proved the coach right. More than 400 athletes competed at this year’s event, and the sounds of cheering spectators and teammates were ever-present throughout the eighth running of the meet that takes place at Iroquois Middle School and serves as one of Section II’s first offerings of the fall sports running season.
Niskayuna began running its Ekiden as a way of introducing a different type of competition to the Section II scene. The event combines three runners from a school to run together in a relay format, and athletes compete for top individual time and top team time. Only one athlete from a three-person team runs at a time, and rather than passing a baton, runners wear a sash while competing and pass it onto a teammate to start the next runner’s turn.
As one of the kickoff events of the year for Section II running, Niskayuna’s Ekiden only asks its varsity competitors to run 1.5 miles, while freshman athletes do a mile. Niskayuna boys’ head coach Jason DeRocco said the shorter distance involved with the race serves a valuable purpose, as it allows the sport’s many rookies a chance to compete for the first time without having to run the lengthier distances most area courses ask for from athletes.
“Some of our kids have never run a race before, they don’t get it yet, so we wanted something more low-key, something different,” said DeRocco, whose boys’ entry of Spencer Amorosi, Joseph Quinn, and Charlie Ragone won the varsity team race with a time of 23:32.60, edging a Shaker trio’s 23:32.80.
For the girls’ race, a team from Colonie finished in first place. Individually, Colonie’s Jake Johnson came in first place on the boys’ side with a mark of 7:25.70, while Shenendehowa’s Julia Zachgo was the leader for the girls at 8:35.02; from Niskayuna, the top male individual was Ragone (third place, 7:28.90) and the top female was Lexi Sciortino (16th place, 9:20.37).
In all, 133 three-person teams competed at this year’s event, while some athletes competed only as individuals to bring the total numbers of competitors at the meet above 400. Besides the Niskayuna sports booster club, the event receives assistance from Fleet Feet Sports and Saucony.
For the coaches, the meet provides the valuable tool of getting an individual split for each runner, who is out on the course without his or her usual teammates pace alongside of while running. DeRocco said what’s more important, though is that the race’s team-based results and low-key environment is conducive to building team spirit.
“You’re not out there running a 5K up and down hills,” he said. “This is shorter, you get to let your younger teammates see what the sport is all about, and your older kids can tell their younger teammates, ‘Congratulations, you finished your first race.’ It builds camaraderie to start the season.”
While the Niskayuna boys’ trio of Spencer Amorosi, Joseph Quinn, and Charlie Ragone won the varsity boys’ race, here are the top-five individual finishers from Niskayuna for this year’s Ekiden. (Athletes are listed with their time and place)
Charlie Ragone: 7:28.90, 3rd
Joseph Quinn: 7:52.70, 9th
Spencer Amorosi: 8:11.00, 19th
Colin Ross: 8:23.20, 29th
Cedric Brownewell: 8:31.60, 35th
Lexi Sciortino: 9:20.37 16th
Samantha Padula: 9:36.68, 25th
Rebecca Cropsey: 9:44.96, 30th
Amelia Kokernak: 9:45.80, 31st
Katie Showers: 9:48.20, 34th