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High School Cross Country: Hornberger breaks Section VI mark, falls just short of state title

Lake Shore's TJ Hornberger, pictured above on the far right, broke away from the pack in the final mile, along with first-place finisher Ryan Manahan, who’s to his left. (Photo by Michael J. Petro)

TJ Hornberger badly wanted to win a state championship in front of a home crowd rooting on the Lake Shore junior.

With the stage set for the hometown favorite on Saturday (Nov. 10) at Elma Meadows, Hornberger, who’s been dominating Western New York for the past two years, came up just short, placing second to senior Ryan Manahan of Marcellus.

Hornberger wound up running the fastest time ever by a Section VI runner at the course and shaved 35 seconds off his winning time from the sectional championships a week ago but he couldn’t shake a feeling of disappointment from what should have been a joyous moment.

“I definitely wanted to win, so I am disappointed about that, but I had a good time and gave it my all, so I’m happy,” Hornberger said. “It feels good to have a lot of people supporting you and really wanting you to win.”

With friends and family, along with the local running community, backing him, Hornberger ran a 15:35.1, taking the second spot very comfortably but behind Manahan’s 15:30.6. The course record was 15:38.6 set in 2001. Manahan’s new course mark was later shattered by Nick Ryan of Fayetteville-Manlius, who finished in 15:07.9 in the Class A race, on an unseasonably warm afternoon.

“It would have been nice here at home for him to win it,” Lake Shore head coach Mike Brinkerhoff said. “It’s funny when you hear fans chanting, ‘TJ, TJ,’ and it’s many people that are just locals. So, he was kind of bummed, but he was still very pleased with his performance and so was I.”

Hornberger, a three-time Section VI Class B champion and two-time overall sectional winner, continued his progression in state competition after finishing in third place last year and taking 20th as a freshman.

Hornberger waited the race out a bit in the first mile and then was part of the leading pack during much of the second. After the race’s top two runners separated from the pack toward the end of the second mile on a hilly stretch, the long-striding Manahan showed the late speed. Hornberger said he felt Manahan slipping away around the 800-meter mark.

The Lake Shore standout knew what he’d be up against having run against Manahan last year in state competition, losing out for second to him by just .07 seconds, and then seeing him again at this fall’s McQuaid Invitational.

In anticipation of the competition, Hornberger worked all week with Brinkerhoff on that hill around the two-mile mark and maintaining that closeness in the back half of the race.

“We knew the separator was going to be once you hit mile two and go up the back hill; that was going to pull people away and it ended up being TJ and Ryan coming down that back stretch together,” Brinkerhoff said. “We figured TJ would have to play catch up at the end, because Ryan has got those long legs, a beautiful stride and all of that power. I was still pleased. That was a much closer gap than it could have been.”

If Brinkerhoff knows one thing about Hornberger, it’s that the junior will be able to forget any disappointment from this race and bounce right back to make his next race even better.

“It was right there for him and you want to hang on...but he’s not one to put his head down and worry about losing,” Brinkerhoff said. “He just improves the next time out.”

Hornberger will get that chance at a regional championship race in two weeks and from there, he hopes to qualify for nationals. He still also has one more chance in state competition in Queensbury next year.

Two locals participating for the first time in the state meet, Lake Shore sophomore Calvin Butlak and Hamburg junior Jake Wojnicki, were both amazed by the speed of the race but that didn’t mean they lagged far behind.

Butlak finished 52nd in 16:53.3 and Wojnicki, 59th in 17:00.6, also in the Class B race. Both posted faster times than their impressive performances to qualify the week prior at the Section VI Championships.

“He came back and said, ‘wow, that was fast,” Brinkerhoff said of Butlak’s post-race reaction. “He held his own. He went 20 second faster in the first mile than he did last week. He ran phenomenal.”

“I was really trying to take it slow but I got caught up in how fast the race was,” said Butlak. “Running this race is so different. I’m really just glad I finished.

Wojnicki savored this opportunity and the journey he’s been on coming back to the team last year following suffering a stress fracture in his leg as a freshman. He worked his way up all the way from Hamburg’s eighth runner last season to its second in 2012.

He had to beat many higher ranked runners, including a teammate, last week just to qualify to run Saturday. In state competition, he eclipsed his personal best run from last week by 15 seconds.

“He ran a great race — his best of the year,” Hamburg head coach Ron Fortuna said. “He’s put in a lot of hard work.”

Wojnicki was able to catch up a bit to a fast field thanks to training hard for the course’s hills.

“It’s a big honor; there are so many good runners here. I had a great race to get here and then gave it my all,” said an admittedly tired Wojnicki still trying to catch his breath about 10 minutes after the race. “I tried to remember that people would be (having a hard time) on the hills, so I was going hard up those and then the last 1200 meters is all down hill.”

In the girls race, Frontier’s eighth grade standout Hannah Kennedy placed 82nd in 20:29.8.

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