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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
VERONA — All year long the Corning Hawks proved anyone could step up on any day. The problem was they had struggled to get five runners having their best day on the same day.

On Saturday everything came together for the Hawks at the NYSPHSAA Cross Country Championships as they brought home a state title for a second straight year.

Corning had a team score of 60, with Monroe-Woodbury taking second at 77 points.

“The positive all season is we have been interchangeable,” Corning coach Ray Lawson said. “A good team doesn’t really worry about I’m the number two runner, I’m a number four runner. But, we’ve had the interchangeability, but without five guys running well on the same day or six guys, and today we had seven guys race well on the same day in a state championship and that just shows their maturity and how much they care about it.”

At the sectional meet Gabe Cornfield dealt with sickness and was the eighth finisher for the Corning Hawks.

On Saturday the Corning senior was 18th place (16:51) to earn a state medal and finish second on the Hawks.

“I did not expect that we would be able to repeat what we did last year, it’s not about we can do a lot of things to try and peak at the state meet, but it’s really about them having the mental fortitude and approaching the race the right way,” Lawson said. “Our big focus before the race, I know they’ll race hard, but making sure you race the right people. In a state championship you have to get out well enough and be out fast enough that you are racing the kids you are supposed to be because no one is going to give up a spot to you. Every single spot you have to take and if you start too far back you can lose a race right in the first half mile.

“We got out well and we moved up even better. We ran better than I would have expected just given what we have been struggling with. We tightened up the things we needed to tighten up.Gabe Cornfield was huge for us today. He was sick at the sectional meet, he was our number 8 that day and he was our number two today, had his best meet of the season and that really helped. We have been talking about we have to have a close gap, we have to close the gap with our really our 2-4, but today was our 3-5 who were within 2 seconds of each other and just having Ashton (Bange) run so well up front and the best he can do for us is he’s got to get as low of score as possible and he ended up being 4th in the team scoring which is great. That gives us some cushion so he ran a great race and just overall glad about the boys performance.”

Bange, who led a lot of last year’s state championship on his way to a fourth-place finish, led for parts of Saturday on his way to taking seventh in 16:19.5.

“Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned, but it feels 10 times better when I know I have a team backing me,” Bange said. “I don’t have to have the best day of the year and I know my team can still win and pick me up.

“My plan coming in was run a good, solid first mile and let everyone else do the work. Stay top 10, top five and kind of sit and kick. About a mile and a half in one of the guys fell and I was kind of sitting behind his shoulder when he fell so I automatically got pushed in the front. That’s not where I wanted to be, so I tried to slow down a little bit and the whole pack slowed down with me and so I was stuck in the front. I did what I could to stay smooth, stay stolid and prepare for that kick. Unfortunately the kick didn’t go quite as planned, but I gave it what I have.”

Bange took the lead in the final mile as well, but running on a wet and muddy course made things tough.

“When I was thinking about the race there’s a pretty steep hill right before the track (where the race ends) and I knew, that’s it, that’s when I have to go,” Bange said. “It’s going to make or break the race. I gave what I had, I just wanted to test the fuel tank.

“I didn’t realize how painful running on soft ground would be. I’m not used to that quite yet. This is only my second year. The second time running in rain. It’s a lot different than a nice, tough, hard ground.

After taking the lead and getting passed Bange started to get tired, but he fought as hard as he could to finish as high as possible.

“I was getting flashbacks to pre-states when I kind of died off and it’s like not here, not here and I gave everything,” Bange said. “I pushed and it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it’s much better than it could have been.

“I did what I could because I knew my boys were behind me giving everything they had.”

Lawson was happy with the effort of his senior.

“He put himself in a position to see the leader and try and have a chance to win and that’s all you can ask,” Lawson said. “New York State, this Class A is a deep class and he’s gotten stronger each week the last four weeks. He’s overcome some adversity of his own, having the achilles issue that has been bothering him and hampering his training a little bit. But, he’s been getting better, getting healthy. We have a couple more weeks before regionals and hopefully he gets a little stronger before then.”

After the two state medalists, the next three runners for Corning were within five spots of each other, with Tevin McLaren 32nd in 17:10.5, DJ Cornfield 35th in 17:12.1 and Marcus Homa 37th in 17:12.5.

Joshua Beres was 59th in 17:36.2 and Jaxyn Mahoney was 80th in 17:53.8.

For Corning’s runners winning states last year was special. But, it was also big to win this year after graduating state champion Jack Gregorski.

“It’s nice to be able to prove ourselves without people like Jack Gregorski on our team,” McLaren said. “It’s really nice to show our independence from the superstars like him.”

The third through fifth runners knew it was important to have that pack mentality that has always worked well for them.

“As our coach has been saying, we know what Ashton can do,” DJ Cornfield said. “But, we want three or four guys together. Because he knows we are all fast and we have to race as a team. So, our stress was just being together and getting as many people as we could.

“I think today was a great day to show what we are as a team.”

Running together is something Corning prides itself on.

“We’ve been training as a pack all season,” Homa said. “It’s been just incredible training with these guys. I wouldn’t rather win this thing with anyone else. We train as a unit and we race as a aunit and we win as a unit. Everything we do, it’s all of us, it’s a team sport.”

In the storied history of Corning cross country, no boys team had repeated as state champions.

“It’s an incredible feeling. Our team has a strong history to be a part of that history is amazing,” Homa said.

Last year the team had a ton of confidence going into states. This year there were a few nerves as the team tried to have a race where everyone ran well.

“It felt good,” Gabe Cornfield said. “Definitely last year we came in knowing we could do it, but we had to give our all and this year we came in ranked first, but we definitely wanted to prove it and that as really good.”

There was a lot of emotion when the winning scores were announced, as the Hawks weren’t sure during the race if they were ahead.

“To come in and root for your teammates not knowing if you won or not, it’s definitely a relief hearing our name and it just felt really good knowing your individual time helped the team.”

Bange is never fully aware of what’s going on behind him, but he just knows he has to run hard to help the team.

“I kind of try and do my thing up at the top, because I know they might have an amazing day and come right with me, or they might have a bad day and I need to move up some spots,” Bange said. “ it ry and do my job and give them motivation by doing my job and moving up the pack.

“Last year, states was tough, it’s states, but we kind of went in with the mentality, okay, we are seeded first, we know if we can do what we do we can make this work. This time it was like, well it’s going to be a dogfight and whoever can have the best day can win it all.”

The Hawks knew every spot on the course mattered Saturday.

“Every spot counts,” Homa said. “Going into this race it’s a tight field. It’s really anyone’s race going in. Just keep your eyes peeled for the jerseys you need to be on. If you see a jersey you need to pass, then you pass it. It’s all about racing the right people at the right time.”

The Hawks just tried to catch people as they ran.

“I saw a few ahead of me, but it didn’t really matter (what team) as long as I passed someone,” Gabe Cornfield said. “It didn’t have to be a that jersey, but as long as I passed someone I knew it would be a contribution for the team.”

And, the Hawks runners knew every spot they moved up could help.

“Marcus was right ahead of me, he passed a Monroe (Woodbury) guy and there was about 150 meters left and I saw the Monroe Woodbury guy and I thought, if we are two points behind, if I pass him, that’s what will give us a tie, if we are one point behind that’s the win.”
IN TOP PHOTO: Corning’s Ashton Bange. . . PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES

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