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North Warren running team is small, but poised for achievement

The 2013 North Warren High School Cross-Country Team includes (front, left to right): Toni Agard, Alyssa Dewar, Ellie Underwood, (row 2): Coach Bernie McCann, Grant Cooper and Tyler Stiles. (Not pictured): Matt Brown and Trevor Stiles.

The 2013 North Warren High School Cross-Country Team includes (front, left to right): Toni Agard, Alyssa Dewar, Ellie Underwood, (row 2): Coach Bernie McCann, Grant Cooper and Tyler Stiles. (Not pictured): Matt Brown and Trevor Stiles. Photo by Thom Randall.

— The 2013 North Warren Cross-Country program is likely to overcome its shortfall of runners this year and have a successful season regardless, considering the dominance of the program for well over a decade.

“We took quite a hit with the 2012 athletes graduating,” coach Bernie McCann said, noting the 2013 team will be missing 2012 standouts Megan Erickson, Cody Phillips, Ryan Olson, Christiaan VanNispen and Anthony Sapienza.

The 2012 boys team captured second place in the Adirondack League, and Erickson individually won the overall girls title for the league. She also placed third in the Section II tournament and competed in the state tourney for the fourth year in a row.

McCann said he expects Alyssa Dewar and Ellie Underwood to step up this season to Erickson’s level.

This is not a long shot — Dewar has been undefeated at the Modified level, McCann said.

“Alyssa is our next Megan,” he remarked, watching the team conduct its drills.

Years come and go, and McCann and his assistant coach Judy Benway have routinely turned out championship runners. Since 2005, the North Warren team has produced 47 Adirondack League All-Stars and nine state tournament qualifiers. They’ve also racked up 120 wins and 20 losses, two Section II championships — one each for the boys and girls squads.

Additionally, the Girls team has won the Adirondack League title outright three times plus two times in second place, and the Boys have won two league championships and four second-place titles. The teams have also won “All-Academic” status as the runners have all held a 90-plus average in their scholastics, McCann added.

How have McCann and Benway accomplished it? McCann deferred credit to the athletes, but he also said he likes to inject some humor into practices to offset the hard workouts. Also, Benway — who’s a home economics teacher — likes to feed the athletes spaghetti dinners before meets, McCann said.

“We like to keep it fun,” he said.

They also follow a principle of inclusiveness.

“We make each kid, whether they’re stars or not, feel important,” McCann added, noting he was going to recruit more members for the team even before school starts. “We define winning as finishing the race.”

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