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High School Cross Country: Lake Shore star now has company at the top from teammates

While TJ Hornberger still separated from the pack at the Section VI Championships and throughout the season, teammates Ian Yargeau (runner No. 455) and Kelvin Butlak, who is to his right, have helped make Lake Shore the fourth ranked large school in WNY. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)

States coming to Elma Meadows on Saturday; Hornberger, Butlak, Wojnicki, Kennedy qualify

TJ Hornberger has enjoyed win after win at dual meets, in invitationals and Friday (Nov. 2), again at the Section VI Championships, but the Lake Shore junior now has company around the top of the leaderboard from some of his teammates.

While the dominant Hornberger is still pulling far away from most of the fields he runs against, fellow Eagles are now within the closest of groups chasing behind.

Lake Shore’s boys cross country team is picking up steam and surging and it’s not just because the Eagles have Western New York’s top runner. It also has much to do with those following in his footsteps.

The Eagles have gone from being unranked at the beginning of the season, despite having Hornberger, to being fourth among large schools in the latest poll. Lake Shore head coach Mike Brinkerhoff feels that since Hornberger is doing exactly what he’s been doing — winning — that the lift in the rankings has everything to do with what the entire squad has been able to accomplish.

“One thing I’ve always said to the team is that we’re all in this together. Yes, we do have someone who stands out above the rest and we may not be able to catch him, but we should understand that we can still work on improving ourselves,” Brinkerhoff said. “TJ doesn’t rely on the fact that he knows he can win. He’s working out everyday and putting in that extra effort and it has filtered down and kind of spread to his teammates.

So much so that when the State Championships are run Saturday, Nov. 10 locally at Elma Meadows, the Eagles won’t just be represented by Hornberger — as they’ve been the past three seasons, as sophomore Kevin Butlak also qualified. Junior Ian Yargeau was on pace all season to qualify but an injury in the team’s last meet slowed him just enough that he barely missed out.

Hornberger’s time of 16:09 put him atop the Class B field at Elma Meadows for a third straight season, with the next fastest time 36 seconds behind. It was the best overall time for Section VI boys, a feat he’s accomplished the past two seasons. Butlak was seventh in 17:13.2. Yargeau was 16th in 17:33.6, while sophomore Josh Wheeler wasn’t too far behind in 35th (18:11.3).

“We’ve gone out and competed with TJ at states before, and he meets new people and that’s great, but now you have someone else you can bring along and make it even more enjoyable,” Brinkerhoff said. “I’m going to turn around and really cheer for them to finish strong. We’re really excited about it.”

Hornberger couldn’t be a better role model. Besides the obvious results on the course, he keeps himself in tip-top shape and while he may have reached elite status locally, he never stops looking and training to be better.

When school was closed last week due to Superstorm Sandy, Hornberger encouraged his teammates to get in a workout together on their day off.

“I try to help them and bring them along; we all really show each other some stuff,” Hornberger said. “I just try to be the best friend and teammate to them as I can be. It always helps to push them during the summer and when we’re off to get in runs and workout.”

He also never takes his or any other runner’s ability for granted. Even as the heavy favorite, he came into the sectional meet with an open mind.

“I like to come in, keep my head up and think that anything can happen; anyone can be faster than anyone,” said Hornberger, whose fastest 5K time this season has been a 15:32. “I come in with an open mind and just try to run my best.”

Brinkerhoff can see Hornberger’s habits rubbing off on the others as many of them have added morning runs and extra workouts to their regiments. He’s also provided some helpful advice.

“You don’t win the race in the first mile,” Butlak said of what he’s learned from Hornberger. “He showed us that you want to go faster as the race goes on, don’t die the first mile and just stick it out. He’s told us we need to train everyday and don’t think you’re the best when someone else could be right behind you.”

Butlak was running with Yargeau to start, but as the race got into the stretch run and with his teammate hurting, he kicked ahead and into high gear.

“Kevin ran a beautiful race and stuck to the plan exactly how he wanted to,” Brinkerhoff said. “As a sophomore, it’s a good experience to run here for the second time and a great experience to run at the state championships.”

Hornberger’s goal in sectional competition was to finish below 16 minutes but given the muddy course, he was still satisfied with the results, especially after seeing a teammate also qualify for states. Brinkerhoff said they were using the race as a barometer for what’s ahead this week.

“I’m really excited (about having sectionals local), because a lot of my friends and family will be able to come up here to watch,” said Hornberger, who competed this season in a national race in Manhattan, finishing third among New Yorkers competing. “I really want to win this year. That’s my top goal.”

Hornberger no longer represents the only excitement coming out of the Eagles’ cross country program. Next year, Brinkerhoff brings back six runners who he thinks are already visualizing the possibilities and all of the success that could lie ahead.

Also qualifying to run at Saturday’s meet at the Section VI locale is Hamburg’s Jake Wojnicki, who pulled off a major surprise by a runner making a huge turnaround.

At the Section VI Championships, Wojnicki was not only Hamburg’s top runner with a time of 17:14, but upset a host of previously higher ranked runners to emerge as one of the five individuals who qualified to represent Section VI Class B, along with the winning team East Aurora.

Two years ago, Wojnicki suffered a stress fracture which ended his freshman season and last year, he was Hamburg’s No. 8 runner, barely missing out on sectional competition. This season, he was Hamburg’s No. 2 runner but he even surpassed that status to qualify for the state meet.

“He exemplifies the two attributes necessary to becoming a long distance runner — hard work and perseverance,” Hamburg head coach Ron Fortuna said. “This year, his hard work and perseverance paid off, after a summer of re-focus and intensive training.”

Hamburg also received solid performances from Justin LaRosa and Zach Stumpf, who finished with times of 17:33 and 17:37, respectively, on the 3.1-mile course, to help the Bulldogs finish seventh in the 24 team Class B race. Historically, those times would have qualified runners to advance to the State Meet, but with a recent consolidation of the classes and increased competition within Class B, LaRosa and Stumpf fell just short of qualifying. Taking the next scoring spots for the Bulldogs was first-year runner Jake Haney and senior Tim Dubill. Jake Wojnicki’s younger brother, Aaron, took the seventh team spot closely behind senior Hnat Peczonczyk.

Frontier took fifth in Class AA behind sophomore Dan Heavern’s 13th-place finish in 17:56. Also for the Falcons, junior Matt McCann took 16th (18:10.1) and classmate Josh Suarez, 21st (18:17).

The Hamburg girls brought its’ season to a close with a fifth-place performance among 23 Class B schools at the sectional competition on a cold and damp day on the course at Elma Meadows. The top three Bulldogs, Hannah Fredriksen (12th), Erin Cuddihy (14th), and Isabell Luthringer (17th), were all faster than last year by at least 10 seconds a mile. Luthringer was faster by more than a minute. Erin Kane, in her first sectional race, was 26th and co-captain Leah Covelli was 31st. Claire Herrmann and Rosemary Herbst had good first efforts on the sectional course.

Also in the girls competition, Frontier took third in Class AA as its top five runners finished in the top 24. Eighth grader Hannah Kennedy was the Falcons’ top finisher and qualified for the state competition after taking eighth place with a 20:38. She was followed by senior Emily Wilson in 11th with a 21:12.5; senior Maddy VanRemmen, 15th (21:33.2); senior Kennedy Hall, 22nd (22:12.3); and junior Syndey Bova, 24th (22:20.2). The Falcons finished behind first-place Clarence and Lockport. Lake Shore’s top finish in the Class B race came from eighth grader Natalie Cummings, who took 18th (20:48.2). The Eagles took ninth place.


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