Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School cross country's Teddy Piccoicca, left, and Reyers Brusoe are shown at Thursday's practice at Shuttleworth Park in the city of Amsterdam.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School cross country's Jonathan Knack, left, William Weinheimer, center, and Teddy Piccoicca are shown at Thursday's practice at Shuttleworth Park in the city of Amsterdam.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School cross country's Olivia Lazarou is shown at Thursday's practice at Shuttleworth Park in the city of Amsterdam.
Michael Kelly/Recorder staff Amsterdam High School cross country's Ryan Kamanu is shown at Thursday's practice at Shuttleworth Park in the city of Amsterdam.
By MICHAEL KELLY
With a week left before their teams' first competition of the 2014 season, Amsterdam High School cross country head coaches Stu Palczak and Kevin Wilary are pleased with where their Rams and Lady Rams stand.
Both AHS squads return key pieces from 2013, but top runners such as junior Jonathan Knack for the Rams and freshman Olivia Lazarou for the Lady Rams will have new terrain and opponents for the upcoming season. AHS moves into the Foothills Council for 2014, but the program has also moved its home meets from the high school campus to the course at Bob's Trees in West Galway.
At Thursday's practice at the city's Shuttleworth Park, Palczak said the AHS squads -- which will have three home meets between the Foothills Council regular season and postseason -- had wanted to make the move off campus for a while to a more scenic and adventurous course.
"It's a nice venue there and we already run there throughout the season," he said. "So, we took the plunge."
The AHS runners have been at work for two weeks, alternating speed workouts with distance practices.
"Sometimes, our speed days have added up to some decent mileage, too," said Palczak. "We've been very pleased with how they've progressed."
"We've been building up, day by day," Lazarou said.
The Rams' and Lady Rams' first competition is a week from today at Iroquois Middle School in Niskayuna. The AHS squads will compete in the seventh annual Niskayuna XC Ekiden, an invitational which allows for schools to enter a selection of three-person relay teams.
While the Rams only have nine competitors for the 2014 season, Wilary said he's had a number of athletes impress him in the season's early stages. Knack projects as the Rams' top runner, but junior Edgar Maldonado -- back after taking 2013 off from the sport -- helps to provide depth, along with senior Teddy Piccoicca and junior William Weinheimer.
Adding to the Rams' arsenal is freshman Ryan Kamanu, who is expected to become a major contributor this season for the squad. A track and field athlete for the Rams, too, Wilary said he thinks that cross country is a sport more to Kamanu's liking -- and the freshman agrees.
"Well, track, to me, it's kind of boring because I have to go around and around in circles," said Kamanu. "In cross country, I love going through the paths and trying to catch people."
Thursday, the AHS runners split their workout between running and exercising under the eye of Alpin Haus Fitness trainer John Sumpter. After running a few miles, the Rams and Lady Rams were put through a series of strength- and speed-building exercises, a once-a-week staple of the club's training.
"When John comes in, we work out with him to get our cores stronger, get our leg muscles stronger," said Lazarou. "But it's different every day."
"It feels great -- after," said Kamanu. "When you're doing it, it hurts. ... After, you feel strong, you feel refreshed."
For the Lady Rams, Palczak said he could see six or seven of his athletes competing for the team's five scoring spots. Eighth-grader Emma Gomez and sophomore Alana Mazur are bright spots as newcomers, while Wilary said sophomore Makayla Pine has also moved into the mix after a strong offseason.
"She wanted to get herself into shape, and she worked incredibly hard to do that," said Wilary. "And, it's showing."
Seniors Shawntel Rivera and Alyssa Turo should be factors for the Lady Rams, while junior Chantel Dopp will team up with Lazarou to form a formidable one-two punch.
Palczak said he expects Dopp to be a consistent top competitor in the Foothills Council, while even more is expected of Lazarou.
"I think Olivia is as good as anyone," said Palczak. "She's in the upper echelon of the league."
In general, AHS' move to the Foothills Council means a tougher slate of league meets.
"There's more competition, which is going to be good for all of our runners," Lazarou said.
After a couple weeks of preparation -- with one more to go -- before the teams' meets get started, Wilary said he thinks AHS has the right type of mix for a successful season.
"This is a sport where if you don't want to work hard, you shouldn't do it -- and these kids are all hard workers," Wilary said.
Contact MICHAEL KELLY at firstname.lastname@example.org