By Matthew Wakefield
ELLERY - Maple Grove's Corey Wefing and Hope Pietrocarlo entered Friday afternoon's Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association championships as the favorites in their respective races.
The boys in the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Athletic Association cross country championships run together in the early stages Friday at Long Point State Park.
The Red Dragon runners both met those expectations, but in decidedly different ways.
Wefing started the afternoon at Long Point State Park by winning the boys varsity race, but he had to hold off a strong effort from Allegany-Limestone's Owen Barber to do so. Barber actually led the race in the last half-mile, but Wefing regained the lead coming down the stretch and edged Barber by just more than six seconds.
There were no such theatrics for Pietrocarlo, who led the girls varsity race the entire way and crossed the finish line a full minute ahead of second-place finisher Holly Eliason of Sherman.
Pietrocarlo's victory led the way as the Maple Grove girls easily won the team competition with 27 points. Gowanda was second with 82 points.
Southwestern was the top boys team with 76 points, followed by Dunkirk with 118.
Wefing and Pietrocarlo are the top-ranked boys and girls runners in the CCAA and Southwestern and Maple Grove are the top-ranked boys and girls teams, so the results weren't too surprising. But that doesn't mean there wasn't any drama.
Wefing led his race at the 1- and 2-mile marks, but Barber was right there with him the whole way. Finally, Barber - the second-ranked boys runner in the CCAA - got by Wefing and the race was on.
''He took the lead and he was pushing it,'' Wefing said. ''This was the fastest he ever ran. He ran really well and gave me a little scare. But at the end I took the lead maybe the last 150 yards.
''There was quite a bit on the line. This is my senior year, my last county meet, so I just kind of thought about that and pushed to the end.''
Wefing finished in 16:02.02 while Barber, a sophomore, came in at 16:08.46. Gowanda freshman Matt Kruszka (16:46.08) was third, and the Southwestern duo of sophomore Ryan Hetrick (16:49.87) and senior Jordan Powers (17:07.74) were fourth and fifth, respectively.
''I talked to Owen Barber afterward and he said, 'Doc, I passed (Wefing)! I didn't know what to do!''' Maple Grove coach Doc Rappole said. ''It was great. It was a gut-check for Corey and he needs that. He's got sectionals and states and this is it for him. We've been saying there's next year, there's next year, but there's no next year for Corey now. It was a good race for him. He answered, he got it done.''
Gowanda (125 points) finished third in the boys race, Fredonia (133) fourth and Jamestown (161) fifth.
Southwestern's other top finishers were senior Jacob Hinsdale (17:57.81) in 18th, junior Collin Hanson (18:04.37) in 19th and eighth-grader Giussippie Hoose (18:31.52) in 30th.
In the girls race, Pietrocarlo finished in 18:49.09, well ahead of Eliason (19:50.83) and Maple Grove teammate Caroline Benson (19:59.75).
The cold temperatures with intermittent rain that Friday brought did not bother Pietrocarlo in the least.
''I feel really good in these conditions,'' the sophomore said. ''This is what I'm used to. This is like my back yard - I only live a couple minutes away. I really like the cold. It makes my breathing easier and it helps me power through the race faster.''
The drama in the girls race was in the battle for second place. Eliason and Benson, both seniors, traded the position between them throughout the race before Eliason grabbed it at the end.
''It was fun watching Holly and Caroline because I've been watching them since they were seventh-graders,'' Rappole said. ''They went back and forth the whole race.''
Maple Grove senior Taylor Norris (20:01.02) was fourth, Fredonia senior Michaela Tramuta (20:04.44) fifth and Maple Grove eighth-grader Grace Auer (20:12.03) sixth. Seventh-grader Kristin Kelemen (21:00.09) was the Red Dragons' other top finisher in 13th place.
In the team standings, Silver Creek was third with 94 points, Fredonia fourth with 99 and Sherman fifth with 107.
Many of the same teams - as well as some others - will be back at Long Point this Friday for the Section 6 state qualifier.
''It's wonderful for our kids and for our league to race here,'' Rappole said. ''Hopefully, we'll be able to have a good course for them. The course stood up pretty well today considering all the rain we've had. There were a couple spots that got a little greasy but, hopefully, we'll dry out a little over the next week.''