boys cross country team is headed upstate to compete Saturday in the state public schools championship, hoping to add another title to the school’s illustrious running record.
The race is at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School near Utica and begins at 9 a.m.
After winning league and division titles, the Wildcats captured the Suffolk Class A title last week against 23 other teams on the Sunken Meadow State Park course.
Leading the way, Coach Rob Conroy said, were All-Stater Zach Cammer, Michael D’Amato and senior Patrick Cummings.
Though he’s the team third-best runner, Cummings came in for special praise.
“He’s had a lot of hip and knee problems,” Conroy said. “It’s becoming painful for him to run. We’ve had seven or eight meets this year and we kept him out of five. We’re trying to use him sparingly. We wanted to keep him fresh for the counties because we had to win this meet to get upstate. And he was willing to fight through the pain and run for us.”
Cummings finished third at the county course. “He clinched the win for us with his third-best finish. We had two faster but without Patrick it would have been a lot closer,” Conroy said.
“We hope Zach is all-state again this year,” Conroy said. “D’Amato just missed by one point getting all-state last year. They spearhead the team but Patrick is the heart of the team. Michael and Zach turn us from a good team to an elite team.”
Conroy, a math teacher who has been coaching for 17 years, 15 of them at Whitman, relies on his athletes’ personal sense of discipline to turn out champions each year.
“We usually have varsity guys run almost 500 miles over the summer,” he said, before the team’s annual summer camp. “By the time they get to camp, they already have about 400 miles under their belts.
“One thing about cross country is that it's physically demanding. It requires endurance, power and strength. You don’t have a time out; you’re not really happy how it’s going but you don’t want to give up; you have to grin and bear it. I’ve been lucky; the kids I work with, I get more nervous than they do. They’re very calm. You want to stay relaxed. They have the right temperament. They’re not just tough physically emotionally and mentally.”
Conroy, 42, said he starts summer practices with 60 to 70 athletes, running the trails of West Hills County Park. But the Wildcats will take just seven to the championships in Verona. The Wildcats will compete against eight other teams.
Comparing his runners to other athletes, Conroy said, “It’s a different kind of toughness. Cross country is both physical and mental. You don’t enough oxygen in the last part of a 5k race. When you see them, you can’t believe what they’re able to accomplish. They’re physically fit go run 10 miles and come in bench press.”
The Wildcats have proven themselves Suffolk strong. This weekend Conroy's runners will test themselves against the state's best.