By Chris Metcalf
LETCHWORTH – Michelle Curtin couldn’t have been any prouder of her young team.
The Wayland-Cohocton girls captured the Section V Class C title Saturday at Letchworth State Park.
Sophomore Hope Ammarell won the race with a time of 20:14 followed by teammates Rachel Gray (4th place), Riley Goodwin (8th place), MaryLi Nielsen (13th place), Ashley Feely (24th) and Isabella Feely (25th).
Way-Co defeated runner-up Bath-Haverling 44-56 while Dansville was third (71).
Way-Co’s last sectional title was 2013.
“We started our season with half of our team as middle school students who had never run cross country before and were excited to have a complete team when we started the season,” head coach Curtin said. “You always hope for the best but in September I wasn’t sure how we would finish. The girls worked so hard and kept their eyes on the end of the season, working harder and dedicating themselves to their goals every week. I am so proud of the work they put in proving every day that hard work pays off.”
After watching her youthful Lady Eagles run away with the Section V Class C title Saturday, coach Curtin reflected on what has been a season to remember.
“At the beginning of the season, the kids filled out goal cards and a lot of them said something about sectionals,” Curtin said. “While you always hope, I really wasn’t sure how the kids would perform since so many of them had never even run modified. In our first race of the year, we lost to a strong Oakfield-Alabama team, but the kids ran hard and strong. The following week we were in Pavillion and the kids just kept getting stronger and faster. I knew we had a good base with both Hope and Rachael getting patches last year. When we went to the pre-sectional meet and were able to win against the reigning Dansville champs, I started to really believe it was possible but to never underestimate Todd Luden in Bath and Lynn Auble in Dansville.”
Coach Curtin thinks the competitiveness of her team really kept them hungry, especially at the top of her line-up.
“Hope and Rachael have been battling for first on the team all season,” Curtin said. “Hope joined the team about halfway into last season. Over the summer she did something to her ankle and has been going to Lattimore PT for the entire season to help get her where she is. Hope is very passionate about everything she does. She wants to understand the ins and outs of cross country and where she stands compared to everyone else. Her mom told her that if she won sectionals, she could adopt a cat, I don’t think her mom realized exactly how possible that was.”
Gray has been on the varsity team since she was a freshman.
“She constantly works hard and pushes herself to be the best she can be,” coach Curtin said. “She is the quiet leader of the group, choosing to lead by example rather than anything else.”
Just a seventh grader, Goodwin was pulled up to varsity this year, and the move has worked wonders said Curtin.
“We were cautiously optimistic about her talent and I couldn’t be more pleased with how she has done all season,” Curtin said. “Mary Li Nielsen is our number four runner and like Rachael has been with us since she was a freshman. She is the team photographer, always getting team pictures and putting together the end-of-the-year video. She is paramount to the team feeling like a team and not just a bunch of individuals.”
Eighth-grader Australya Mossburger is generally Way-Co’s number-five runner.
“If we could all harness her energy, there would be no stopping us,” Curtin said.
Then there are the Feely sisters, Ashley, a senior, and twins Isabella and Amelia, both eighth-graders.
Ashley is in her second year of cross-country and usually around seven or eight in the line-up but her fifth-place showing Saturday was big for the Lady Eagles.
Ashley is the team’s only senior.
“Having all three Feely girls on the team brings new meaning to your team being your extra family,” coach Curtin said. “We will bring back all runners except Ashley next year and so the pressure will be on to see if we can do it again.”
Curtin is no stranger to the cross-country circuit.
Along with her assistant coach, Derek Hitesman, she coached for four years while her daughter Meghan was in high school after “no one else would step up so I took it over so she could run.”
Meghan was one of the greatest distance runners in LCAA history helping Way-Co win the title in 2013.
Meghan went on to compete at a high level at Division I Quinnipiac.
“I spent a lot of time learning from Dan Moore (SUNY Geneseo),” coach Curtin added. “I stopped coaching when Meghan graduated because my youngest daughter was a swimmer and her meets were the same days as mine, I missed a bunch of them and didn’t want to miss anymore. I started back last year as the assistant coach because no one else had applied for it and once I was back, I remembered how fun it is and how great cross-country runners truly are.”
Curtin is already looking forward to next season, with plenty of firepower back for a possible repeat.
“Our team goals looking forward, we need to recruit more kids into the sport in general,” Curtin said. “Keep working hard, keep building our level of trust in our teammates and enjoy the ups and downs of the seasons to come.”
And bring another block back to Wayland.