The Citizen's sports department will soon reveal its choice for the 2017 runner of the year honor. Here is a look back at past winners of the award.
Boys Cross Country All-Stars: Cato-Meridian's Carnicelli takes major leap forward
Cato-Meridian's Logan Carnicelli never considered himself anything more than middle of the range.
Talented and competitive, but not the best.
But when Carnicelli, The Citizen's boys cross country runner of the year, returned to school this year, his abilities had taken a major leap.
"My running this year dramatically improved from last year," Carnicelli said. "Last year I did well and I was kind of our middle man for the team. This year I got a lot faster. Our very first race this year was a dual meet, and I took first by over a minute.
"As soon as we started those meets, I started realizing I could do more than I estimated I could. It gave me perspective on where I'm at."
According to tullyrunners.com, Carnicelli was the eighth-best runner in Section III, Class D this fall. He finished second in the Cato-Meridian Invitational, third at the OHSL Patriot division championships, and fifth in both the Weedsport and Baldwinsville invitationals before taking sixth in the Class D championships.
"He's become a household name in the section," Blue Devils coach Ryan Lubba said. "I think people knew he was competitive, but we didn't know just how competitive he'd be this year. He kept turning heads this season, and everyone knows he's the real deal."
His performance at sectionals earned Carnicelli a trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championships, where he finished 28th of 122 runners in Class D.
"Going in, I knew it was going to be a tough race," Carnicelli said. "Everyone that's at the state meet is there for a reason, so in that sense it was a lot different than any race I've ran before. I really wanted to get in the top 25 percent. I just made my goal and I was very happy with it."
Competing at the state meet was not only a major achievement for Carnicelli on an individual level, but serves as a feat for Cato-Meridian as a whole.
"I think we were just happy to send someone," Lubba said. "We've been in a two or three-year drought, so just having someone there to represent Cato-Meridian was a big deal in itself. To finish where he did was definitely a treat."
Carnicelli wasn't always into competitive running. His first experience with cross country came in seventh grade, but Carnicelli took nearly a two-year hiatus from competing before trying out for the track team in the spring of his freshman year. The following fall, Carnicelli found himself involved with cross country too.
"Honestly, I was kind of lazy (in seventh grade) and I didn't enjoy it that much," Carnicelli said. "I didn't think I would do a sport again. Then someone asked me if I wanted to try track, and I was like, 'Yeah, OK. I'll give it a try.' I loved it, and next thing I know I'm doing cross country. My friend encouraged me to get back into it, and I'm glad they did."
So is Lubba, who calls Carnicelli "a genuine personality."
"That's the biggest thing that leaps out," Lubba said. "He recognizes he has talent and he's an elite runner, but he doesn't act that way in terms of cockiness. He's very grounded, down to Earth and humble. He's always looking for feedback from anyone around him, he doesn't make more of himself than he should and he stays very true to himself."
Carnicelli will compete for Cato-Meridian in outdoor track during the spring, and will look to return to states next fall as a senior. Until then, he'll look back on all he accomplished as a junior.
"I'll look back on this year as a year of self discovery," Carnicelli said. "I really didn't think I had as much potential as I was able to run with this year. It really felt encouraging that the extra running and training in the offseason paid off."
Boys Cross Country All-Stars: Port Byron's Justin Janes cruises in rain or shine
PORT BYRON | The most important aspect of running cross country is accepting that every day is not going to be a great day.
What separated Justin Janes, The Citizen’s boys cross country runner of the year, was the ability to run his best when weather conditions suggested running outside is the last thing you should be doing.
Janes’ preferred running weather is unconventional.
“I like 20 degree weather when it’s raining … or snowing,” Janes said. “Most people don’t like running in the worst conditions, but for me for some reason I excel at it. It makes me feel a lot better.”
Janes excelled in every type of weather this fall. His speed rating of 147 – a measure used by tullyrunners.com to judge cross country runners’ overall performance – was 16th best in all of Section III, Class C. In the OHSL Patriot divisional meet on Oct. 28, Janes finished 6th overall with a time of 18:16.5. On Nov. 7, Janes finished 15th overall at the Section III, Class C championships with a time of 18:02.7.
But cross country runners – much like the courses they compete on – experience ups and downs. Janes finished 46th out of 136 at the Tully High School Invitational on Oct. 17, a time behind his normal standard.
“Justin started out very, very strong and went through a midseason lull,” said Port Byron head coach Mike Hermann. “Quite honestly, he was getting frustrated because he would go out and compete hard, but he wasn’t getting the results that he had become accustomed to getting.
“To his credit, he didn’t pack it in and say 'Oh well, its over.' The last three weeks of the season, he ran better.”
Refusing to call it quits is a quintessential trait of a cross country runner. As Hermann expresses, all cross country meets are a grind.
“Every day is not a good day (in cross country),” Hermann said. “We joked about that in the beginning of the season. You’re going to get a mile into the race and that question is going to pop into your head – ‘Why am I doing this again?’ There’s something about it that keeps you coming back.”
Janes credits his perseverance to his experience as a boy scout. Last summer, he received the highest potential honor a boy scout can attain – eagle scout. To earn this distinction, one must successfully complete a service project of their creation.
“To be a boy scout, one of the main things they talk about is that if you make eagle it shows you have leadership,” Janes said. “You basically lead a whole group of people into doing a project that you chose.”
Janes’ project was to build and deliver 60 emergency backpacks to the elderly around the town of Throop. The idea was a success, and Janes obtained the rank of Eagle Scout. One of the people that attended Janes’ ceremony was his coach.
“That was one of the highlights of my summer when Justin invited me to his Eagle Scout ceremony,” Herman said.
In the woods or on the track, Janes always tries to imagine himself at his peak.
“I sometimes wonder, ‘Why did I choose this’ because it’s so cold out,” Janes said. “Other times it’s nice and easy and you don’t even feel like you’re running. There’s a lot that goes through my mind.
“I always try to imagine myself on my best day and try to beat that.”
Sun or snow, rain or shine, Janes’ best was often better than the rest.
Boys Cross Country All-Stars: Jordan Middleton paces Auburn against Section III's best
AUBURN | Auburn High School senior Jordan Middleton likes to run and he's good at it, but make no mistake - running cross country isn't his favorite.
Competing against two of the top two Class A teams in the state (Liverpool and Fayetteville-Manlius) helped Middleton's time this year, but injuries slowed The Citizen's runner of the year, just enough to prevent him from breaking the 16-minute 5K time he and his coach, Ben McIntosh, set for him this season.
"I wasn't able to do it this year," Middleton said of the time. "I battled some ankle injuries early in the season so I was trying to bounce back from that - but I'm not much of a cross country guy anyway, track is my main sport."
In the Maroons' lone home meet against famed F-M in early October, Middleton won with ease. Despite not qualifying for the state meet, Middleton finished the 5K Section III course at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill in 17:23.3, good enough for 18th place. He was one of only five runners not from Liverpool or Fayetteville-Manlius to finish in the top 20 in Class A.
"It could have been a lot better, I will say that," Middleton said of his season. "Running against two of the top two teams in the country - you get down on yourself sometimes when they, race after race, beat you. It was frustrating, but with the new training we were put on this season, I definitely see big results coming up for track."
Helping Middleton with his running this season, as well as in track and field in the winter and spring seasons, is storied Auburn runner McIntosh. Middleton is up for any challenge McIntosh throws his way - he's used to being trained by the best. Middleton was coached by Chris Mason, whose name is all over the Auburn High School running record books, as well as by his older brother, Justin Middleton, who had his own share of success running cross country.
"It feels great honestly," Middleton said of being coached by Auburn's best. "Chris having trained me (at the modified level) - two years ago he was my coach during the summer - and knowing what he did and trying to go after all of his accomplishments, going to states in steeple - I got him there too - it's just really big for me to be able to chase after the people that made this program into what it is. Like my coach, Chris and my brother."
Next up for Middleton is to break his coach's time in the mile run by the end of the season. Not a bad goal for a kid that began running five years ago because he saw that his brother enjoyed it.
"My coach's legacy is huge and that's my main goal for this upcoming season is to break his mile record for our school (4:16.6)," Middleton said. "Mine and his goal for me is 4:15 by the end of the season. Hopefully I can get there. I think with the training this year, I really have a shot. He's honestly, one of a kind."
For Middleton, running is a means to succeeding in college. He's in the process of choosing between Canisus College and SUNY Albany, where he wants to study biology and become an oral surgeon. The runner will continue to hone his craft in college, in one facet or another. Canisius is more known for its cross country team, while Albany is better at track.
The second of four Middleton kids, Jordan will make his decision soon - in the midst of trying to make states and break some Auburn track records before he accepts his diploma in June.
"In indoor, I would like to make (states) in the mile," he said. "I made the inter-sectional relay in indoor last year, which was kind of a letdown. I'd definitely like to make it individually for the indoor and for the outdoor, I'd really like to make it for the steeple and the mile. There's really no stopping a week in between season, Maybe a little longer into the start of the season but there's really no long break unless I'm hurt which is not fun so it's just running all the time."
Tremendous talent: Chappell dominated regular season, sectionals for merged Port Byron/Union Springs
For Tim Chappell, the decision to run was made in the spur of the moment.
"It took about 15 seconds," the Union Springs senior said. "My friends were all doing it, so I just signed up."
The choice, made five years ago, turned out to be a good one for Chappell, who earned his first trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Boys Cross Country meet this fall. His season-long dominance made him an easy choice for The Citizen's boys cross country runner of the year.
"It was a really cool experience," said Chappell, who finished 31st in the Class C race. "Things seemed to click together in the right way. The best word to describe it is probably surreal."
The second-year varsity runner didn't have a lot of competition for first place in any regular season race this year. It was a big change from his junior season running for Port Byron/Union Springs.
"Last year was a lot of learning experiences for me," Chappell said. "I had the biggest trouble in the big meets. I'd go out steady and try to pick people off one by one. The problem was that I was stuck back, people were so spread out, I'd stay back in the pack."
This year, Chappell started out strong and finished the same way. He came in fourth in the Section III, Class C meet at Jamesville Beach and owns Port Byron's course record with a 15:48 three-mile time.
"He peaked at the right time," said Port Byron coach Mike Hermann. "He was great for us this year."
Chappell, who will graduate from Union Springs High School in June, was proud to represent both schools over the last two seasons.
"Without the merger, I wouldn't have gotten to run," he said. "It was never Union Springs versus Port Byron. The team took runners from both schools to make one team. For having me represent them, I was honored. Both communities were accepting of all the kids from both schools, it was a really quick process - everyone was friends right away. I got an experience I wouldn't otherwise have had - I got to meet kids from Cato-Meridian, Weedsport - all those schools. It was a cool experience."
With all of his efforts this season, Chappell will get to run cross country wherever he decides to attend college, where he plans to major in creative writing.
All because of a split decision a few years ago - a decision that grew from mediocrity to a sizable amount of talent.
"I just wasn't good enough in middle school, in modified" Chappell admitted. "I didn't join when Union Springs merged with Southern Cayuga, my freshman year I might have been passable. My sophomore year, I realized I can do this well. I wasn't the very best, I didn't step on the track and automatically become the best. I had to work to be right where I am now. It's taught me a a lot about how to approach challenges."
Tim Chappell, Port Byron/Union Springs
The Union Springs senior was the lone boys runner to advance to the state meet this season, finishing 31st in Class C.
Jordan Middleton, Auburn
The Maroons junior competed at a high level all season, finishing his season in 19th place in Section III, Class AA.
Jack Gugel, Jordan-Elbridge
Gugel, a senior, was a leader for the state-ranked Eagles all season. He came in 20th overall in Section III, Class C.
Nathan Hollis, Jordan-Elbridge
Hollis finished fifth overall in the OHSL Liberty League race and 15th in Section III, Class C.
Matt Bracht, Port Byron/Union Springs
Bracht was a solid No. 2 runner for the Panthers all season. He came in ninth overall in sectionals and fourth in the OHSL Patriot League championships.
Quick on the keys too: Weedsport senior Seth Baker can play the piano as well as he runs
WEEDSPORT | Seth Baker tickled ‘dem ivories.
The slides went up and down the 88 black and whites. He got his right foot up onto the keyboard to help out.
He held out all of the right note for "Great Balls of Fire," the Jerry Lee Lewis version, of course.
He went nuts.
He rocked out.
And rockers, hip hoppers and people all around the world know that kind of adulation - he “rocked out” - isn’t thrown around lightly. There is video to validate the claim.
“(Social studies teacher Theresa) Leonardi, told me to go insane because that was Jerry Lee Lewis. I tried my best,” said The Citizen boys cross country runner of the year about the Weedsport USO show in honor of Veterans Day, where he played the piano as it probably has never been before at Weedsport High School.
The day before the holiday fell on the calendar, Baker finished 12th in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class D final, the best of any local runner that participated, as he ran 5:29 miles for a 16:59.3 final time on Nov. 10 at Elma Meadows Golf Course near Buffalo.
He also won the OHSL Patriot League title by 10 seconds in 17:29.5 among other accolades this season.
Baker, a senior, did it all under the direction of one of his older brothers, head coach Josh Baker. The elder Baker wasn’t as big a fan of the younger’s abilities on the piano. Seth Baker learned to play after he received a small keyboard with keys that lit up for Christmas during his freshman year. He memorized tunes there, learned some scales in music class, and then practiced at home on the instrument which was directly above Josh Baker’s bedroom.
“So, I don’t like to hear him play piano,” Josh Baker said with more older brother than coach in his voice. “He is the most talented of all of the (four) brothers. He is the best at everything. It is no surprise that he is the best at sports too.”
Outside of the piano Josh Baker always kept an eye on his younger brother. “Eat Healthy,” was one of his favorite points.
“Ehh...” Seth Baker shrugged about having a brother as a coach.
“He really pushed me a lot,” Seth Baker said after the laugh. It is better when you can have him drive you home and remind you, ‘Eat Healthy.’ Just have that reminder in the back of your head.”
Cross country, like the piano, can be a rather solitary endeavor and a compelling case can be built for Mike May to be this fall’s MVP. However, the 2012 fall turned out to be one of the biggest rock-paper-scissors seasons in local boys high school cross country history. Jordan-Elbridge’s Jack Gugel won at times, Cato-Meridian’s Brett Ryan finished first at times, and only mononucleosis stopped May.
Even for Baker the award isn’t about him.
“I don’t think I could have had a better team,” Baker said. “My freshman year it was six freshmen and one senior and it was those six freshmen that stayed with it thru the last season. We got better and better. I couldn’t be more happier. They are all my friends.”
All friends that were rolling when Baker came out in rolled up brown jacket sleeves and hammered and belted out "Great Balls of Fire."
“I love a challenge. I think that is where a lot my drive comes from. I do a lot of things here, but I love new challenges,” Seth Baker said. With nothing solidified yet he is hoping to pursue mechanical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute next fall.
“I want to be the best at everything,” he said.
You have to see the video. He is the best at ticklin’ ‘dem ivories.
Warrior work ethic
WEEDSPORT – Weedsport cross country coach Josh Baker stretched out his arms to about shoulder-width apart.
“About that far,” he smirked.
For his younger brother, Seth, the motion signified the six-tenths of a second that kept him from qualifying for the state meet his sophomore year.
“I was happy because I was a sophomore and I was that close, but at the same time I was really mad, because it was right there,” Seth Baker said. “I guess it just drove me to work super hard this year to make sure I got it.”
Just over a year later, the siblings can now laugh off the younger Baker’s previous misfortune, as the junior easily qualified for the state meet at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School, and his 11th place finish in the boys Class D race earned him The Citizen’s boys cross country Runner of the Year.
Seth gives most of the credit to his summer preparation.
“In August I ran basically every day, that was something new, and in season, everything was a sprint,” he said. “I tried to be the fastest in everything and I gave up most of the junk food I ate, and I ate healthy all of the time.”
Although the offseason changes didn’t have the immediate impact he wanted on his times, it eventually paid off for Seth.
“I started off better this year as well, although it was a little slower than I thought I would be,” he said. “Most teams, they run year-round. I swim and I take the summer off, so it takes me longer to get fast, but I drop time faster than most.”
Josh Baker hopes that the results of this season show his brother the need to begin training even earlier as he prepares for his senior year.
“That he did so well is a testament to his hard work,” Josh said. “Hopefully this pushes him a little bit more to run at the end of June instead of the end of July.”
Over the summer and during the season, the kin connection between coach and runner has provided extra motivation for Seth.
“We make jokes and stuff, but he also knows just the thing that gets me going — the things in practice that will make me mad and want to beat him for what he says or push harder,” he said.
But for Josh, the transition from brother to coach is natural.
“Most coaches are older brother or sister figure, or mother or father figure for their team, and it was easy to do that for Seth,” Josh said. “I’m already in that role, so I don’t have to work hard to be in that role for him.”
The role of coach is as intuitive to Josh as it is for the family to be runners. The four brothers — spaced out over 10 years — sometimes get together and run around the 5.5 mile block around the family homestead.
“When I was (running) in high school, Seth was doing all of the fun runs of all the road races I went to,” Josh Baker said.
Over a decade later, Seth is still running, improving and setting loftier goals. His next goal — to win states — is within reach.
“I’m going to try,” Seth Baker said. “It’s my senior year and my last year of high school. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
“Of course, I did that this year too,” he added, turning to his brother.
Faking anger, Josh quipped “What do you mean?”
Staff writer Jeremy Houghtaling can be reached at 282-2256 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at CitizenHough.
Eagles’ leader embraces being a runner
Greg Bader finished ninth in the Manhattan and Marathon Invitationals, finished 12th overall at the state championships and was selected first-team all-league all while leading the Jordan-Elbridge cross country team to a second overall finish in its league.
But just five years ago, all those accomplishments wouldn’t have even been a blip on the radar for the The Citizen’s runner of the year.
“Absolutely not, are you kidding me?” Bader said. “I was going to be a professional basketball player in the NBA.”
Bader hadn’t participated in cross country until his freshman year of high school. Prior to that, Bader was a four-sport athlete: football, wrestling, basketball and baseball. But the summer before his freshman year, Jordan-Elbridge cross country coach Rog Roman asked him a question that changed his life, “How about you come out for a run.”
Bader did, and J-E won their league his freshman season, followed by three-second place finishes and a plethora of awards.
“I truly can’t tell you how much it changed my life,” Bader said.
While he still plays basketball as much as he can, Bader now dedicates himself fully to cross country and track and field. He is no longer a player but a runner. Instead of summer league basketball or conditioning for football, he fills his summer’s with 500 to 600 miles of running.
Three summers of training helped Bader become the unquestioned leader of the Eagles cross country team, a squad that was state-ranked throughout the season.
“It’s meaningful,” Baders said. “It shows how dedicated I’ve been.”
Without some costly injuries the season could have been ever better. Still, Bader couldn’t have been prouder of his team’s performance.
The feeling was mutual. Bader was awarded the Bryan Place award, given to the team’s MVP. The meaning was multiplied due to the fact Place passed away this year from a brain aneurysm.
“To get such an award, it’s incredible,” Bader said. “That’s one of the greatest compliments I could ever get. For Coach to compliment my leadership, it’s an honor but I’ve been working with some of the best guys around.”
As he was mentored as a freshmen and continued to grow as a runner and a leader, Bader returned the favor this season, leaving the perennial power in good hands.
“I’m really proud of our team’s accomplishments. One of our goals was to just have fun,” Bader said. “But keep an eye on these kids, they’re are going to be incredible.”
Marrero finishes season on high note
Jordan-Elbridge cross country runner Mike Marrero concluded his high school career on a high note - finishing 10th at the state championships.
“I couldn't ask for a better way to finish my four-year career,” said Marrero, The Citizen's boys cross country runner of the year. “My goal was to finish in the top 10 and I did that so I am pretty happy. Our ultimate goal as a team was to win a state championship and we battled with Holland Patent all year but just didn't make it. I am proud of our efforts though and wish more of my teammates could have come to states with me. Being able to go to states for my second consecutive time, my senior year, was amazing, just a great experience I will never forget.”
Marrero precluded his trip to states with a fourth-place finish (16:57.9) at the Section III championships.
Now looking at Division I schools, Marrero will graduate with fond memories of his days with the Eagles, especially at the Manhattan Invitational where he got to run side-by-side with a teammate.
“Cody Stanton and I finished together at the Manhattan Invitational this season,” Marrero said. “That was really special for me because we always want to beat each other and were always fighting for the top spot. But this time we finished together in the biggest high school invitational in the nation. The team as a whole, though, our best moment was probably at the pre-state invitational in Plattsburgh where we came in first overall as a team and beat our arch rival Holland Patent. That was a great feeling of vengeance.”
Marrero credits Jordan-Elbridge's successful cross country program to head coach Roger Roman and the competitiveness of the runners.
“Coach Roman pushed us all year long,” Marrero said. “He kept us on a regular practice schedule and made sure we were all working hard constantly. The team was motivational because it was constant competition. Everybody wanted to beat everybody else; there was non-stop motivation from both. This is a really great team and I am honored that I was a part of it. We may not have reached our ultimate goal this season but I will take these memories with me for the rest of my life.”
The Eagles' running man
With all the attention he's receiving from his success as a member of the Jordan-Elbridge cross country team, Cody Stanton is beginning to feel like a celebrity. And it's no surprise, as the junior has already elevated to premiere status as one of the best runners in school history. Stanton won the Section III, Class C title and finished fifth at the state championships. His fifth-place finish was tied for the best in Eagles history, and that's why Stanton is The Citizen's boys cross country runner of the year.
“It is so awesome, the recognition and pride that I got from winning the sectional race,” Stanton said. “It's kind of weird but it's like everyone knows me now. I feel kind of famous. Everyone keeps coming up to me congratulating me and hugging me, it's awesome.”
Running as the No. 1 man for Jordan-Elbridge, Stanton led the Eagles to a top-three ranking in the state.
“He trains hard and races harder,” Eagles coach Roger Roman said. “I can't fill him up on mileage, he goes home from practice and does more.”
Stanton even goes so far as to run two miles barefoot after every practice.
“I read online that running barefoot everyday helps build up the capillaries in your muscles,” Stanton said. “So I did that until I got a chunk of glass in my foot.”
Running 40 miles a week with his team at practice, Stanton would have his father pick him up afterward and drop him off about halfway from home so that he could run the rest of the way.
“I thought that the more I ran, the more I would progress,” Stanton said. “It felt really good, I just couldn't get enough. I wanted to be at my best.”
Stanton has more than enough reasons to keep running. He said his family and friends keep him inspired especially his father.
“My dad is really into my running,” Stanton said. “Both of my parents have put a lot of time and effort into it. … Plus I really love it. I can't wait to see how I can do next year.”