October 12, 2008 - 5:20 AM
At the Suffolk County Officials Cross Country Invitational on Long Island, the top six individuals were awarded clocks, and the top teams were awarded plaques.
A lot of that hardware was heading back to Western New York.
Teams from West Seneca West, Grand Island and Fredonia as well as Hamburg's Joe Whelan turned their trip to the site of this year's state meet -- Sunken Meadow State Park -- into a win-win situation. Not only did they get a sneak peek look at the course they all would like to return to on Nov. 7, the performed extremely well.
The West Seneca West girls won their race with Fredonia right behind in second; the Fredonia boys won their race with Grand Island right behind in second -- while Whelan was the individual winner. The Grand Island girls also took fourth in their race.
"[Locals at the meet] were like, "Who the heck are these teams?'‚" West Seneca West assistant coach Pete Szymanski said by phone from Long Island Saturday evening. "I said, 'It's West Seneca West from Buffalo, New York,' and they were like, 'Holy cow.'
"We got a little heads up on what the course is like. The states were down here six years ago, and that's why we at West Seneca West train at Chestnut Ridge, because we know there are hills involved.
"It is definitely a challegning course, no doubt about it. The first one-third of a mile is pretty flat, and then it starts to climb. At a mile there's a nice little hill. The biggest part is the halfway point after you go down below a picnic area, the race really starts at the 1-1/2 miles -- it is a climb. Whoever gets up there first, from there, there aren't too many spots that will change."
West Seneca West sophomore Chelsea Needham had a breakthrough run in winning her race in 20:32.9, just ahead of teammate Emily Sullivan (20:45.1). Vicky Luongo was fourth (20:59.4) while Mary Janak was fifth (21:04.9) -- that's a lot of clocks.
"Needham has always been a No. 2 to No. 4 girl," said Szymanski. "She just stepped it up today. A great win."
Whelan, one of Section VI runners for years who has struggled with injuries recently, won the Boys "A" race in 16:30, 32 seconds ahead of runner-up Evan Tsembelis of Grand Island.
"Joe decided it was time to make a move here," said Szymanski. "He felt well enough to run and did it like he wanted to. He did a nice job. It's definitely a turning point and a statement race for Joe."