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Leave it to Marissa Saenger to turn a stress fracture into a lucky break.

The setback, in which a small crack develops usually in the shins, is common for high-impact sports such as distance runners. Saenger’s misfortune became a teachable moment as she learned the limitations of her body and alternative training methods.

The Clarence senior had been putting in 50 miles a week, but found that was too taxing on her petite 5-foot frame.

“I learned that it’s kind of dangerous to cut back on the calories and be underweight because that’s kind of what contributed to my stress fracture,” she said. “So I knew I needed to put on some weight to be in a healthier position to run that kind of mileage.”

Saenger makes it a point to take days off from the pounding. On those days she’s either in the Clarence pool doing laps with her friends on the girls swim team, or on the stationery bike.

“The same mileage doesn’t work for everyone,” she said. “I guess my body just doesn’t handle the higher mileage which I learned from the stress fracture, so cross training is one of the ways I keep up my fitness.”

She’s cut her mileage to 35-40 miles per week. After missing the first invitational of the year in Baldwinsville, she’s been on a tear. On Saturday she had the fastest time of the day at the Knox Invitational covering 3.1 miles in 18:33.71. At McQuaid she ran a 17:04 for 3.0 miles bettering last year’s time of 17:33. She’s currently ranked No. 2 by tullyrunners.com. in the overall speed rating.

Saenger is coming off a memorable cross county season last year finishing 25th at the Footlocker Nationals. She said it’s her dream to qualify this year as a senior but it’s ultra-competitive as only 10 girls are taken from the northeast.

Saenger is the undeniable leader of a Clarence cross country program whose boys and girls teams are both ranked No. 1 among Western New York large schools.

“She’s got her act together, she’s not your typical teenager,” said Clarence coach John Hunt. “Every day she does everything right. She’s great with the younger girls and obviously she’s a gifted kid and she doesn’t let it go to her head.”

Trying to keep pace with Saenger are her teammates, Katrina Patterson, Liz Rott, Hannah Reinhardt, Danuta Warner and Emily Garrett.

Hunt is in his silver anniversary 25th season. He’s built Clarence into one of the premier programs in WNY. His girls teams have won 16 Section VI titles while the boys have taken seven.

The boys team is led by senior Dan Huben, who is just as accomplished in indoor and outdoor. He won Saturday’s Knox Invitational race also leading Clarence to the team title. He’s ranked No. 8 in the state by tully runners. During last spring’s outdoor season he finished fifth in the state and fifth at junior nationals in the steeplechase.

He sets the pace for teammates Anthony Casullo, Zach Kuloszewski, Greg Blackburn and Nick Knorz.

Hornberger sees Orange

TJ Hornberger, a dominating runner in WNY cross country and track circles for years, will be taking his considerable talent to Syracuse. The Lake Shore senior will sign a national letter of intent next month. Another standout runner, Hamburg graduate Joe Whalen, is a fifth-year senior at SU. Among Hornberger’s other offers were Ohio State, Providence, Illinois, Columbia and Iona.

“I really loved the coaching staff there, they are really knowledgeable,” said Hornberger. “They know exactly where they want the team to go. They are really driven to be the beat team in the NCAA and that’s what really stuck out to me. They are really honing in on developing their guys.”

After finishing second at the cross country states in 2012 and third in 2011, he’s eying first place next month Queensbury, site of this year’s states.

Hornberger has had an impressive cross country season so far. At McQuaid he won the AA Seed race in 14:53.2. He took second place at Queensbury Invitational in the Championship race finishing in 15:19.3, the third fastest time in the history of the race. Tullyrunners has him ranked No. 4 in the state. At the Red Dragon Invitational at Long Point State Park he broke the broke course record with a 15:31.84, shattering the previous mark of 16:18.43.

East Aurora’s boys and girls finished second in the state last year in Class B both placing behind private schools. The girls went on to qualify for the Nike nationals by beating Holy Names. They placed fourth in the county overall and No. 1 in the among small schools.

This year the girls have won the West Seneca East, East Aurora, McQuaid and Knox Invitationals. The boys have also swept except for the Knox. Both teams are ranked No. 1 in the Section VI coaches small school polls.

The boys graduated five of its top seven runners and the girls lost three of their top five. “That’s a lot to lose from a team and a credit to the dedication and work these kids have put in the offseason,” said coach Walt McLaughlin. “Our boys have done a really great job bouncing back and kind of reloading for the season.”

The girls are ranked No. 1 in the state while the boys are in the top 10. They’ll compete this weekend at the Alden Stampede.

Senior Marta McLaughlin, a top five runner since seventh grade, brings tremendous experience and leadership. Maisy Webster, an alternate a year ago, is consistently in the top three. Sophomore Fiona Danieu is having a big sophomore year and Sidney Spaschak was a top seven runner a year ago.

The EA boys have a strong sophomore class led by Kenny Vasbinder and Matthew McLaughlin, the only two runners back from last year’s top seven. Sophomores TJ Murray and Will Zink are consistently in the top five. “The 10th graders are figuring this out very fast,” said McLaughlin. Aubrey McLaughlin and David Egan are the top two seniors.

Panthers chart course

Sweet Home junior Ally Ortega has had a season-worth of impressive runs already. She broke the course record with a 18:46.05 at season-opening West Seneca Invitational. She was second at McQuaid Invitational in a seeded Double A race and was sixth in the championship race at Queensbury.

Junior Aileen Doyle was in the top eight at West Seneca, McQuaid and Queensbury. She placed 30th at the Federation meet last year, the highest finish ever in Sweet Home history.

“We are still working out ways our girls can work together throughout their racing Ideally we will be stronger as a group,” said coach Brian Lombardo.

Lombardo likes the potential of freshman Sam Peterman, who was second at West Seneca and ninth at McQuaid. They are currently led by senior captain Matt Ciminella and junior Mitchell Daddario. The Sweet Home boys average a 30-second gap between the first and fifth runners. “If you blink, we finish,” said Lombardo.

• First place in the City of Buffalo boys and girls leagues will be for grabs on Thursday at the Rose Garden when the unbeaten City Honors and Hutch-Tech meet. The girls race is at 4:30 p.m. followed by the boys at 4:50 p.m.

This year’s All-High Championship is Oct. 17 at the Rose Garden. Sophomore Brittany Higgs of Olmsted is the defending girls champion. She will be challenged by Emily Booth of Hutch-Tech and Rachael Ruhland of City Honors.

On the boys side, senior Stefano Agostino of Hutch-Tech is a heavy favorite to win the All-High title after finishing second last year. Senior Jack Licata of City Honors and junior Njegos Petrovic of Hutch-Tech will be on his heels.

• Starpoint girls Livia Chase and Sophia Tasselmyer have the Spartans enjoying a No. 19 ranking in the state. Other Section VI teams ranked in the state: Boys - Clarence (6th in Class A), East Aurora (10th in Class B), Sweet Home (16th in Class B), Alden (3rd in Class C), Barker (3rd in Class D).

Girls - Clarence (17th in Class A), East Aurora (No. 1 in Class B), Sweet Home (No. 5 in Class B), Starpoint (No. 16 in Class B), Alden (No. 6 in Class C), Akron (No. 7 in Class C), Fredonia (No. 10 in Class C), Maple Grove (No. 1 in Class D), Immaculata (No. 3 in Class D), Silver Creek (No. 10 in Class D).

Carolyn Hopkins of Williamsville South is the leader of her pack. … One of the Southern Tier’s top runners is senior Corey Wefing of Maple Grove, who is ranked No. 27 in the state by tully runners. … Owen Barber of Allegany-Limestone checks in at No. 64.

email: mmonnin@buffnews.com