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Mettle in the mud

Photo finish: Alex Campanella is outkicked by Jeffrey Antolos of Notre Dame-Batavia as they cross the finish line.

November 17, 2011

VERONA, NY — Excelsior, New York State’s motto, which means ever higher, is a fitting mantra for the elite Section 9 cross-country harriers who vied with the best contenders in the state at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School on November 12. This race encapsulated their hopes and dreams as they looked to unleash their very best.

Despite their assiduous training, runners cannot control the weather and its effect on trails, nor the resolve and talent of competitors they’ve never faced before. Rain and snow the day before the 61st annual NYSPHSAA state championship meet had turned the gorgeous course into a muddy mire, limiting traction and making it very difficult for runners who got boxed in. But despite all that, Eldred’s Alex Campanella (17:30.9) came within 1.5 seconds of a state championship, a vast improvement over his 15th-place finish a year ago. Campanella led at one mile with a split of 5:19 and then ran shoulder to shoulder with Jeffrey Antolos from Notre Dame-Batavia High School thereafter. Campanella led as they entered the track for the final 100 meters before a momentary slip around the final turn, which allowed Antolos to implement a tremendous finishing kick. “It wasn’t the race I wanted. Every step was slippery, but I’ll be back next year,” said the undaunted junior, who maintains hope of going to nationals via the Federation Race in Wappingers Falls.

Teammate Hunter Proscia (18:34.20) finished 15th in his senior outing. Last year, he was 42nd. Proscia, who medaled at states, will also run at the Federation meet. Livingston Manor’s Neal Mock (20:01.4) took 52nd. Eldred senior Christine Donnelly was held back by the mud and the narrow trail that inhibited her advance. She finished 47 out of the state’s top 116 Class D girls runners, upbeat and proud of her accomplishments, having made it to states on her fifth and final try. Eldred eighth grader Sarah Malzahn (25:38.8) was 81st. She has a bright future.

Tri-Valley’s Jim Bernstein (18:36.4), this year’s Section 9 Class C champion, was hoping for a watershed moment but he too was overwhelmed by the hellacious conditions and rued his hesitation to make a move earlier. “It was a mud hole. I slipped a couple of times and conserved too much for the end of the race,” he averred. Bernstein finished 29th out of 132 contenders. “Onto indoor,” he vowed. Bernstein finished 53rd in last year’s state meet.

Sullivan West junior Reed Scott (19:14.6) finished in 57th place and vowed to return next year to advance his case.