AVON — Last fall was not a lot of fun for Sean Kane.
Collapse is too strong a word for what happened at the district cross country tournament at Lorain County Community College, but some breakdowns late in the race turned out to be costly and gut-wrenching for the Avon High boys team, which missed a regional berth on a tiebreaker with North Olmsted.
It’s amazing how things can change in just a year.
On Saturday, Kane and his Avon teammates will lead a handful of unranked contenders for two of the four state-qualifying spots at the Tiffin regional at Hedges Boyer Park. No. 2-ranked St. Ignatius and No. 9 Toledo St. Francis are expected to take the first two berths. The other two appear wide open.
“We have to race like we did for conference and districts,” said Kane, a sophomore. “We have to pull our No. 4 and 5 runners up a little bit more. We’re not a team that can afford mistakes. We have to have a good race and I feel that we can. We’ve been training together since June for this. I think we have the ability to grab one of the top four team spots.”
Kane finished fifth at districts in 17:04.87 as Avon’s No. 2 runner. Teammate Blake Pecoraro won the district in 16:49.28, while Austin Fasciana was right behind Kane in sixth (17:05.30).
It was redemption for last year, when Kane finished 22nd (18:30.59).
“Sean’s got a unique maturity,” Avon coach Matt Nortz said. “They’re kids but you feel like you’re talking to an adult when you’re taking to him. That might be it. He’s just a little more mature than most.”
Tara Gruskiewicz resigned after seven years on the job following last season. Nortz, an assistant since 2006, moved up and the team hasn’t missed a beat.
In fact, the Eagles are on a nice roll, having won five out of their last six meets, including the West Shore Conference and districts. The momentum has Kane revved up about his team’s chances.
“Watching the (2010) team when I was in the eighth grade at districts and regionals really made me excited for varsity,” Kane said.
Kane is also excited because Avon is much healthier than it was in August. Pecoraro rebounded from a case of bronchitis and low blood iron which dropped him to the team’s No. 7 runner at one point.
“We train together on Sundays and we also socialize,” Kane said. “Even on the race days one of us might have a bad race, our attitude is still to try and pass as many people as we can. This is for the team. We need the points. We weren’t always able to say that last year.”
Avon won districts and regionals two years ago with Pecoraro and Fasciana as members of the team that ultimately finished third at state.
Last year, however, the team took its lumps adjusting to to moving up to Division I.
“I’ve improved my speed a lot, both from my speed training and summer workouts,” Kane said. “Last year, I wasn’t always able to go out with the leaders and be a force. For districts, I managed to break out along with the top six or seven guys and hold my spot longer. I’m able to make myself noticed now. I’m not just out there running, I’m out there running to win. I’m going to push whoever is with me till either one of us breaks.”
Kane credits Nortz, along with assistants Chris Koehler, Steve Ferguson and George Curran, in making the difference. Nortz returns the praise.
“Sean’s a good team leader because of how serious he is about the sport and how hard he works,” Nortz said. “He supports the captains. When something needs to get done Sean will jump in and help out. He’s kind of a captain sometimes as far as leadership goes. His work ethic is up there as much as anyone on the team.
“Sean can hammer on any day at practice. He needs to learn to slow up sometimes. Sean’s one of very few kids I’ve worked with that’ll be disappointed if I cut back a workout. For example, we’re doing five 1-mile repeats and I might trim back and say four is enough. He’ll be all upset. You’ll never get that response from most kids and the end of that workout.”
The top six of last year’s seven runners — Kane, Pecoraro, Fasciana, Matt Beltz, Alex Shermak and Corey Hermann — are back this season and they all share and understand the frustration Kane experienced with the near-miss.
“These guys felt all along that they belonged at regionals so they’re excited,” Nortz said. “They’re ready. Even though most of them have never been there before, they’re acting like it’s nothing new. I’m glad they made it.
“I’m not saying we have a great chance, but a very good chance. We just have to perform. Brunswick, Findlay, Strongsville, Toledo St. John and Toledo Central Catholic are the teams to beat. I like the fact we’re not ranked. Nobody is saying to look out for Avon. We’d like to make it down there (to state) again. Two years ago was quite an experience. I would like the boys and girls to experience that.”
Contact Paul Heyse at 440-329-7135 or email@example.com.