10/24/12 7:00am
10/24/2012 7:00 AM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTOS | Mercy junior Delina Auciello (left) and freshman Meg Tuthill finished third and fifth in the team qualifier race Tuesday at Sunken Meadow.

Delina Auciello and many of her track teammates at McGann-Mercy were already working out and training in late August. They figured they were preparing for the winter track season, which was still more than three months away.

Only a few weeks before the start of the school year did they learn that Mercy had brought back a cross country program.

“We were running over the summer,” Auciello said. “Our coach gave us schedules from track. But we found out the last few weeks and everyone was like, Yeah!”

The newest team on the block has been turning heads all year, especially Auciello, a junior running her first season of cross country. At the Section XI Division Championship Tuesday, Auciello ran an impressive time of 20 minutes 32 seconds over the five-kilometer course at Sunken Meadow State Park.

The Monarchs ran in the team qualifier race (the top two teams in each league ran in the championship race) and Auciello finished third out of 179 runners. Her time would have been good enough for third place in Division IV of the championship race.

It was her best time by more than 25 seconds.

“My coach really wanted me to win, but I’m fine with third place,” Auciello said. “I’m so happy about what I did. By the end of the season I want to at least get down to 19′s.”

Auciello began the season running in the mid-21′s.

“I PR’d at every race, which is all I could ask for,” she said.

Her teammate, freshman Meg Tuthill, wasn’t far behind. She finished fifth in the team qualifier race in 21:05.5.

An outstanding distance runner during the track season last year, Tuthill also got her first taste of cross country this fall.

“I was really excited,” Tuthill said about the chance to run cross country. “I just knew it would make me a better runner for track.”

Her times have improved by about two minutes from the beginning of the season, she said. One of the biggest challenges she faced was learning how to run downhill.

“I’m afraid I’m going to fall so I slow myself down,” she said.

Running uphill, however, was less of an issue. “I think I like running uphill,” she said, a statement rarely before uttered in human history.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Mercy senior Patrick Derenze ran a personal best time Tuesday of 19:45.2.

Junior Jen Perugi ran 24:22.6 and senior Courtney Walsh ran 25:58.4.

On the boys side junior Matt Abazis posted the top time for Mercy in 18:28.4. He finished 34th overall in the team qualifier race.

Abazis said he started cross country to help train for track. But he found cross country might be his calling.

“After doing the season I think this became my more prominent sport,” he said.

All the runners said a big part of the success this season was the closeness between everyone. Neither the boys or girls had many runners, but they trained together and formed a close bond.

“I don’t know what it is about cross country, but I feel like the team was a lost closer than the track season,” Abazis said.

Auciello said: “We’re so small, but we’re so close.”

Abazis noted how while the small team has brought them together, the lack of depth has also been their biggest weakness.

“It’s a weird tradeoff,” he said.

Mercy senior Patrick Derenze ran the second-fastest time for the boys with a personal best of 19:45.2. Like many other runners, he joined cross country as a means to train for track.

“I want to run in college, so I was trying to build for my track performance later in the year,” he said.

Mercy coach Tricia Nunez said a goal this season was to teach the kids to run their own race.

“Now it’s toward the end of the season and I think they have a good feel for the course,” she said. “It’s like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it.”

joew@timesreview.com