SOMERS, N.Y.— It was a day the Somers cross-country team will never forget.
Mike Lacko has been hoping for a team title at the Tuskers’ Big Red Invitational for his boys since he took over as head coach in 2014 and on his 30th birthday his wish was granted.
The Tusker boys won the Division 2 team title and they weren’t the only champions on the day as the girls also claimed the top team prize with a surprise winner leading the way. It was the first time both teams won the team title since 2012.
“This was the best birthday gift I could ask for,” Lacko said. “It was great to win our first meet of the season.”
Senior Matt Fusco set a boys course record with a time of 16:01.45 Sept. 9. His twin brother Greg was behind him in second place (16:22.70). The Tuskers also easily defeated second-place Pleasantville with 58 points to the Panthers’ 88.
“I think we came in second every year since we were freshmen,” Greg said. “We really wanted to get it on Lacko’s 30th birthday today. He was like, ‘If Matt and Greg [graduate] and we still haven’t won Big Red, something’s wrong.’”
As twins who have run together for years, the Fuscos are each other’s biggest motivators.
“They push each other the whole way,” Lacko said. “Having those two up front is perfect because they work together so well. They know their strengths and weaknesses.”
The duo is usually neck-and-neck, but Greg was over 20 seconds behind Matt in part due to an illness.
“Today Greg was feeling a little sick,” Matt said. “We decided to have me take the lead in the beginning and he kind of paced off me. We always tend to develop strategies together like that.”
The fact that it’s their home course also helps the Fuscos and their teammates succeed.
“We do workouts on it all the time,” Matt said. “We did a tempo run on the course the week before so we just got a feel of what the race would be like.”
Josh Tetro (16th, 18:16.19), Michael Altieri (18th, 18:25.69), Matt Reimann (19th, 18:26.07), Chris Hannon (22nd, 18:49.69) and Jack Torre (28th, 19:10.84) rounded out the top seven.
“They ran the races of their lives,” Lacko said. “Big improvements—about a minute or a 1:30 by everybody. All that work that they put in this summer, it shows that we’re one of the top teams in the section.”
Thomas Parisi was 35th and Peter MacNeil crossed the finish line in 41st.
“They’re definitely younger and a little less experienced than last year’s team,” Matt Fusco said of the rest of the Tusker lineup. “But at the beginning meets like this it’s important to get some experience for the more important ones later on.”
The Somers girls crushed second-place Ardsley by 54 points, 30-84.
“I think it’s a good representation of what our team is going to look like this season,” senior captain Anjali Kapur said. “We all went around talking about our goals and I think most of the girls already reached their goal in the first meet. We’ve become a lot closer and I think we’re going to have a great season.”
Somers girls coach John Vegliante, who also took over as head coach in 2014, was equally impressed and proud of his squad for claiming the team title for the first time in his tenure.
“It’s awesome to win at our home meet,” Vegliante said. “We always look forward to this each year. A lot of work goes into it—it’s kind of a community event for us. This is the first time the girls have won it with me as the coach. It was a special day.”
In her first race since her sophomore year, senior Elisabeth Van Tassell placed first with a time of 20:19.66 to lead the girls.
“I had no expectations coming in—I just wanted to place high and stay in the top three within my team,” Van Tassell said. “It was really unexpected (to place first). It felt really good.”
Van Tassell was on the swim team in the fall of her junior year. As a sophomore, she missed most of the cross-country season due to an injury. She came back to cross-country because she wants to compete in track and field in college and wanted to fully commit to it.
“I felt that doing cross-country would really add to that,” Van Tassell said. “They’re looking for me to do [cross-country] in college as well. I figured why not try it—it can’t hurt.”
Vegliante knew that Van Tassell would perform well, but a first-place finish?
“In her first meet, running that well was a great surprise,” Vegliante said. “It’s really going to help the whole team. She worked so hard this summer so it’s nice to see that work paying off. We knew she would run well but how well we were not sure until she goes out and does it. She showed us a lot today.”
Kapur, who was right behind Van Tassell in second place (20:26.31), has taken her under her wing since her return to the team.
“We’ve been doing workouts together and I knew she was going to be really good,” Kapur said. “I’m really glad because now I have someone to run with and be competitive with during practices.”
“We definitely push each other during workouts,” Van Tassell added. “And we pushed each other today to get our best times.”
Vegliante said Kapur ran almost a minute faster at the Big Red than she did last year and believes she will have a “monster season.”
Lucy Cliff placed sixth in 21:35.10. Alexandra Marr (11th, 22:35.65), Maeve Janecka (20th, 24:04.23), Emma Jones (21st, 24:05.01) and Mercedesz Stump (28th, 24:43.88) rounded out the top seven for the girls.
Olivia D’Agnese (34th), Shannon Comiskey (36th) and Ariel Markowski (39th) finished in the top 40.
Somers heads up to Rochester Sept. 15-16 for the 16th Wayne Eagle Invitational, which is considered a pre-state meet with the top teams in New York competing.
“Hopefully we’ll bring this momentum all the way up to Rochester and I hope we can be back there in November,” Lacko said. “That’s the plan.”