Pierson Cross Country Runners Close out the Year at State Race

Pierson's Ben McErlean, at left, competes in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C Cross Country race at Sunken Meadow Park in Kings Park on Saturday. Michael Heller photos

The scene at Sunken Meadow State Park on Saturday was like the cross country meets held there almost every weekend in the fall, but on steroids. The best high school runners from across New York gathered in Kings Park for the state championship races, with three young Pierson competitors getting another taste of what it’s like to run against the best.

“It was very competitive,” Pierson boys cross country coach Joe Amato said. “If you were not in the front of the race, it was very difficult to pass.”

Pierson sophomore Ben McErlean led the charge for the Whalers, posting a time of 18:48.4 to finished 75thoverall in Class C. McErlean was the seventh fastest Class C runner from Suffolk County on the day, while his teammate, junior Peter Schaefer, finished 116thoverall with a time of 20:12.

Penelope Greene running at Sunken Meadow in the state meet on Saturday.

In the girls race, Pierson sophomore Penelope Greene competed in her second straight state championship and finished 55thoverall with a time of 21:33.6, the third fastest time among Class C runners from Suffolk County.

Sunken Meadow is considered one of the 10 most challenging cross country courses in America, according to Amato, and the course was made even more difficult on Saturday following heavy rains the day before.

“The only thing that stops us from competing is lightning,” Amato said. “We’ve run in snow at the state meet before. That’s why they call it cross country. The terrain is part of the sport.”

Pierson’s Peter Schaefer running on Saturday.

Both McErlean and Schaefer shaved a minute off their times at Sunken Meadow this year, accomplishments Amato attributed to the competitive nature of the entire Pierson boys team, which included 18 runners this year. “I think the boys are buying into the system,” Amato said. “With such a big group, they really push themselves and I hope that work ethic continues.”

The girls team at Pierson was hurt by injuries this year but Greene, along with senior Caroline Jungck, were consistently at the front of the pack in dual meets. Greene has emerged as one of most talented Pierson runners in recent memory, now with a pair of state championship meets on her resume with two more years of high school remaining.

Also at Sunken Meadow on Saturday, Kal Lewis, a junior at Shelter Island High School, won a state individual championship in Class D with a time of 16:23.3. The Class A winner, Shea Weilbaker of Saratoga High School, finished in 15:52, while Tyler Berg of Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake won Class B in 15:52.4 and Matt Rizzo of Bronxville won Class C in 16:22.2.

In the girls race, Katelyn Tuohy of North Rockland won Class A in 17:02.1, Sarah Connelly of Mount Sinai won Class B in 18:17.7, Eva Borton of Clinton won Class C in 18:24.3 and Brook Rauber of Tully won Class D in 17:52.4