The girls of Fayetteville-Manlius (Manlius, N.Y.) have won six consecutive Nike Cross Nationals finals and, now, the first two (and only) POWERADE FAB 50 girls national championships – the latter awarded in a recent school assembly and in recognition of their accomplishments for the entire season.
One might think championships would become routine, but not with the Coach Bill Aris-led Hornets. Every trip atop the podium is different and 2011 was no exception. In 2010, their first POWERADE FAB 50 title year, you could say the theme was “dominance” – as in crushing all opposition like never before. Fay-Man scored a record-low 27 points at the NXN Finals – a score low enough to have beaten the entire remainder of the field as if it was a single team – and won by a margin of 77. Led by runner-up Christie Rutledge, they had three of the top six finishers.
But this past fall was different. While the team lost only one scorer – Courtney Chapman – they reached a point at mid-season when it was clear that if they were going to repeat, they were going to have to do so without Rutledge and fellow top-5 varsity runner Heather Martin – both of whom were sidelined with what were ultimately season-ending injuries.
At the same time, Coach Aris was dealing all fall was his father’s fatal illness, with the senior Aris passing away on Nov. 10. The Fay-Man family would have to rally as never before, with leadership at the top and younger, less-experienced runners rising to the fore in support.
By the time the smoke cleared in Portland, they had done just that. Junior Jillian Fanning went unbeaten through the state meet and NXN Northeast meet, and placed fourth in leading Manlius in the championships. She was a dominant championship runner (she also won the Eastern States race and ranked #1 in the country until NXN Finals) the likes of which the program had rarely, if ever, had.
Senior Katie Sischo was a strong leader, on and off the course, and #2 most of the year. Sischo, junior Katie Brislin, soph Alana Pearl and junior Hannah Smith all scored in the top 20 to secure the victory with 60 points, 24 ahead of state rival and fellow national dynasty Kinetic (Saratoga Springs), and 8th-grader Jenna Farrell and freshman Annika Avery wrapped it up as sixth and seventh girls. And this was all after they went unbeaten during the rest of the season, with victories in the Eastern States, Class A state meet, and NXN Northeast, among others.
“I think their spirit, heart and soul, and can-do attitude set this team apart,” said Coach Aris. “That, with overcoming our setbacks, made it very rewarding.”
“I was just so proud of them and of all of us,” said Sischo.
In 2011, it was about overcoming odds instead of overwhelming dominance – and it was every bit as sweet.