For the Port Byron/Union Springs boys cross country team, the key to any successful race is pack running.

In a pack, the team is divided into separate groups where three or four runners will maintain the same pace.

If one runner decides to pick up their pace, the other runners in the pack must follow suit. Braden York was the leader of the Panthers' Pack.

York, The Citizen's Boys Cross Country Runner of the Year, led Port Byron/Union Springs to a league championship and perfect record during the 2017 season, and finished seventh overall in the Section III, Class C championships with a final time of 17:32.8.

His season also included a fourth-place finish at the Auburn Invitational, and sixth-place rankings at the Chittenango Invitational and OHSL Patriot League meet.

According to tullyrunners.com, York is rated 53rd in New York state for Class C.

"He got stronger and stronger as the year went on. His physical conditioning was much, much better as the year went on and I think he just raced smarter each and every race," Panthers coach Mike Hermann said. "As the races got bigger and bigger and more important, his starts were good and he executed race strategy ... found himself almost in the position he wanted to be in."

York credits much of his success to teammates Ben York, his older brother by two years, and Michael Schumacher. He says the pack mentality between the three runners helped push him to new heights.

"We’re like brothers," York said. "If you fall behind, after the meet it’s going to be ‘Aw, you fell behind.’ So you’re just trying to stay with them so you’re not part of that. During summer Michael, Ben and I will call each other and meet up and go for a run, and then get ice cream or something to eat afterwards.

"(Ben and I) are definitely competitive at home. We’ll get out of practice and our mom will be here to pick us up and it’ll be the first one to get to the car gets the front seat."

While Ben is one of Braden's motivators on the team, he is also a main reason why the sophomore joined cross country in the first place. York says he was never the type to run for pure enjoyment but saw how much fun his brother had competing and was told by Ben to try the sport and give it a year.

"Three or four years later, I'm still doing it," York said.

York's most memorable moment from the season came in October in a meet against Tully, one of the top teams in the area. The Panthers knocked off the Black Knights 22-33 with York finishing the race tied for second overall.

"That was a good one because that was one we needed," Hermann said. "Tully's got a great program and we hadn't beat the Tully boys in cross country in quite some time. That was a big win for our guys. Tully had always been probably a little bit better than us, but this year we put that to rest at least for a year."

Twelve seconds at sectionals separated York from qualifying for the state championship meet. In cross country, a runner either needs to be on the winning team at sectionals or in the top five of individuals not on the winning team to advance. York finished in sixth among those individuals (seventh overall), 12 seconds behind Hannibal's Ben Dennison.

"It's 12 seconds over the course of three miles, so can he run four seconds per mile faster? I'd like to think so," Hermann said. "It's always a moving target. It's not a qualifying time. ...You have to have a good day on the right day because there's plenty of good runners that just didn't have a great day (at sectionals). Braden is going to be a junior next year and he'll have another shot at it and hopefully it works out, and he'll have another shot at it his senior year."

Whether he ends up ever qualifying for the state meet or not, York appreciates that he's able to compete as a Panther.

"It means a lot because everyone is like family," York said. "There's not really sections of the team ... everyone means everything to the team and it's a family environment, and it's really fun to run with them."

Sports writer Justin Ritzel can be reached at 282-2257 or at justin.ritzel@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenRitz.

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