MEXICO — After a six-month wait and storm warnings throughout the day threatening a postponement, the excitement was evident in the eyes of Oswego County varsity cross country runners as the horn sounded to begin the season Oct. 7 at the Mexico Middle School 5K course.
Mexico hosted Pulaski and Altmar-Parish-Williamstown to kick off the boys and girls seasons for the trio of participating area programs — the first competition for the array of athletes involved since high school sports were halted in mid-March due to the COVID-19 virus.
Pulaski swept the boys and girls races, led by individual winners Luke Tighe and Gabrielle Waite, to highlight the unique field consisting of first-time competitors to defending league champions, all eagerly anticipating a return to competition. Cross country is one of the low- and moderate-risk sports approved for area teams this fall season, along with soccer, tennis, and golf.
“We’re all glad to be back here because there are athletes everywhere that aren’t able to do the sports they love, so we feel lucky,” said Pulaski senior Josh Carguello, who finished second overall in the boys race.
“Just being with this great group of friends that we’ve had since we were little kids, honestly, we’ve grown up together with this team under this coach, and we’re lucky to be able to finish it out strong and have some sort of closure,” he added.
Tighe, a sophomore for the Blue Devils, placed first in the boys race with a time of 17 minutes and 28 seconds. He was followed by teammates Carguello (18:10) and junior Sean McGregor (19:37) to sweep the top three spots.
Aiden McCormick (20:42), Benjamin Schouten (21:40), and Sam Spicer (22:01) claimed places 5-7 to help Pulaski cruise to a pair of victories to open Scott Jones’ 10th season as head coach.
“It feels the same as it did last year, there is the same energy to it,” Tighe said. “With the masks on and everything, it’s a little different, but it feels a lot more similar (to last season) than it does different.”
The Blue Devils have posted two straight undefeated seasons in regular-season dual meets en route to back-to-back Patriot League titles, which was preceded by an 8-1 campaign.
This season will consist of five or six straight weekly meets against regional opponents for area teams and there will be no postseason events or regular-season invitational outings.
“It really takes a lot out of the competition because we love to travel, we love to go against people from all over, that really is an important element to it, but at the end of the day our goal is to beat everyone we go against that’s about our size in our league, and so that goal hasn’t really changed much,” said Carguello, who is beginning his fifth varsity cross country campaign.
“We’re just excited to be able to do what we love and no matter who we’re up against, we’re going to give 100 percent, and we’re looking to go undefeated for the third year in a row,” he added. “That’s our expectation.”
Gabrielle Waite — a freshman in her second varsity season — won the girls race in a time of 24:07. She edged out Mexico junior Carolyn Zedack (26:20) and APW sophomore Sabrina Gamble (27:42) among the top three.
Waite, who qualified for the Section 3 Class C championships as an eighth-grader last year, jumped out early and gradually distanced herself from the pack.
“I like being back,” Waite said moments after her first-place finish. “I just want to try my best and do whatever I can to keep getting first. I want to get first in all my races.”
Zedack posted a time of 26:20 to take second in her first career meet. The junior was one of five Mexico swimmers that qualified for the state championships last fall, and she opted to join the cross country team when the Onondaga High School League delayed the varsity girls swim season to the Fall II campaign in March.
“It felt really good. I haven’t competed like this in a really long time and it’s just fun, it doesn’t matter if it’s swimming or running,” Zedack said.
“I didn’t know how well I was going to do because I’ve never done this before, but it felt good to take second place, and just to actually finish,” she added. “It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, especially when I got to the hills.”
Zedack’s only girls teammate in the season opener, senior Meladee Doria, was also competing in her first career meet for the Tigers. Doria formerly played girls soccer and coming off a significant knee injury, said that she switched to running out of the desire to try a new sport.
Doria placed 10th overall and completed her first run of three-plus miles since joining the varsity team, practices included.
“It was kind of hard because I have a knee injury from soccer,” Doria said. “I made it through all the way, which I was proud of, because no one really thought I was going to finish. … I was so dizzy after, it was interesting.”
The Pulaski quadrant of Holly McCarty, Maggie Eisel, Cassidy Phillips, and Alexa Evans finished from spots 4-7 in the girls varsity race. APW sophomore Aspen Vallance (20:13) placed fourth overall in the boys varsity outing.
The latest meets involving area teams are scheduled for Nov. 14. Oswego High School, Phoenix, and Central Square are also participating in cross country this fall among county districts.
Teams are permitted to travel with 12 or less participants for each meet, and spectators are limited for all schools in the district. Oswego High School is not permitting any fans for its home sporting events.
“Before each race you have to think about it like, for real now, we’re running it like it’s our last race because you never know what could happen,” Carguello said.