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Kyree Johnson

The 4x400-relay team of Mark Rafuse, Lawrence Leake, Kyree Johnson and Anthony Joseph (on far right) took gold at the Suffolk County state qualifier meet (Jonathan Smith and Brian Pierre have also competed on the relay team). Photo from Huntington school district

When Huntington head coach Ron Wilson and his winter boys’ track and field team stepped into the Suffolk County state qualifier meet at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood, they had one thing on their mind: redemption.

Kyree Johnson crosses the finish line in the 4×400-meter relay. Photo from Huntington school district

And that’s exactly what they felt when they went home.

In the last couple weeks, the Blue Devils had experienced their fair share of shortcomings, notably during its Armory Track Invitational Feb. 3, when senior Shane McGuire, a leg of the team’s 4×400-meter relay, tore his hamstring. The next day, at the large school county championship, the Blue Devils’ top sprinter Kyree Johnson felt a tweak in his own hamstring before competing in the long jump and, at the request of Wilson, sat out of competing altogether.

The team ended up losing the county championship 52-51. Had Johnson jumped that day, they would’ve won, the coach said, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

It was that tight loss that hurt them most, dropping from first to fourth in local published polls — only fueling the fire that would light up the track in Brentwood Feb. 13.

“Before we started, I said to the boys, ‘alright fellas, everyone thinks we’re not as good as we used to be, but we need to go out here and prove them wrong,’” Wilson said. “At the meet, we let everything take care of itself and when we finally started running, I was like ‘redemption at last.’”

That redemption came in the form of collaborative speed and agility.

Smithtown West’s Michael Grabowski with his first-place plaque. Photo by Kevin Redding

Johnson, whose week of resting paid off, placed first in both the 55-meter dash, with a personal best time of 6.41 seconds, and 300 dash, with a meet-record time of 34.8, qualifying him to compete in the state championships March 4 at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island.

“After I won the 55-meter dash and saw my time of 6.41, that made me realize that I’m not hurt anymore,” Johnson said. “I just relaxed and stayed calm, and looked at it like every other meet … because if I didn’t, I’d start making myself nervous, so I just kept thinking ‘it’s just another regular meet.’”

Running the anchor leg, he also helped the Blue Devils take home gold in the 4×400 relay in a time of 3 minutes, 32.15 seconds, along with teammates Lawrence Leake, a senior, Mark Rafuse, an eighth-grader, and Anthony Joseph, a senior. The Huntington teammates will be joining Johnson at the state championship March 4.

Leake, who, according to Wilson, is one of the toughest and hardest working young men he’s ever coached, also placed first in a competition of his own. He took gold in the 600 run and broke the meet record with a time of 1:21.70. The record was previously held by Brentwood’s Greg Santiago, who finished in 1:21.99 in 2000.

Smithtown East’s Daniel Claxton leaps over the bar during a previous competiton. File photo from Daniel Claxton

“During the race, I figured everyone else was going to get out pretty hard the first two laps to make sure I wasn’t going to catch them, so I just stayed close and in striking distance until the last lap and put the pedal to the metal and let it go,” Leake said. “It feels pretty good to have a record beat all by myself.”

Smithtown West senior and state qualifier Michael Grabowski had a similar strategy on his dash to first place in the 3,200 run, which he finished in 9:29.19. Competing against  Jack Ryan of Westhampton Beach and Jonathan Lauer of Sachem North, Grabowski knew he had to play it smart by feeling the race out for the first five laps, and push it for the final sixth.

“I was comfortable with my pace and stuck with Lauer, until Ryan made a move and went past him with about 300 meters to go, and opened the race up,” he said. “As soon as Ryan went past Lauer, I followed Ryan and waited until the last lap and kicked. Once I started my kick, there was no going back and he didn’t really have a chance.”

Marius Sidlauskas of Smithtown East placed third in boys’ 1,600 with a time of 4:29.40; Daniel Claxton of Smithtown East placed first in boys’ high jump with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches; Elijah Claiborne, Isaiah Claiborne, Tyler Dollhausen and Dan O’Connor of Northport placed first in boys’ 4×800 relay in 8:09.76; and Ryann Gaffney of Huntington placed fourth in girls’ 55 hurdles with a time of 8.75.

The Huntington football team jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second quarter of its homecoming matchup against Centereach, and it proved to be all the Blue Devils needed, as the team held the Cougars scoreless in the first and third quarters to pull away with a 14-9 victory.

Huntington junior running back Sam Bergman rushed three yards for the game’s first touchdown. Huntington sophomore quarterback John Paci Jr. threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to senior wide receiver Taquan Gooden-Hill in the second quarter, which put Huntington (2-2 in Division II) out in front for good.

Centereach put its first points on the board as the clock wound down in the same stanza, with a 23-yard field goal kick from senior kicker and wide receiver Rob Montgomery. Both teams remained scoreless in the third, and the Cougars held off the Blue Devils in the fourth, but managed to break through in the matchup’s final minutes, when Montgomery caught a 7-yard pass from junior quarterback Jay Morwood for six points. The point-after attempt failed.

Paci was just 1-for-5 for 30 yards and a touchdown under center for Huntington, but senior running back Kei’ron Byrams chipped in, completing two of three attempts for 28 yards. Bergman had 42 rushing yards. Huntington senior running back Jared Leake ran for 103 yards on 17 carries, and junior tight end Anthony McDonald had 10 tackles and a sack. Huntington senior tight end and defensive lineman Josh Hallman had five tackles and a fumble recovery.

Kyree Johnson captures four, Huntington wins first-place team title

Infinite Tucker flies down the track. Photo from Huntington athletics

Infinite Tucker put on one of the most dominating performances ever seen in the New York State Track and Field Championships, winning six gold medals to lift Huntington to a first place finish in the team standings last weekend in Syracuse.

Huntington head coach Ronald Wilson and assistant coaches Eli Acosta and Haidee Bonhurst couldn’t have asked for more from the Blue Devil stars.

“What can I say?” asked Wilson rhetorically. “All those medals speak for themselves.”

The 6-foot, 5-inch 205-pound Tucker won New York State Public High School Athletic Association Division I titles in the 110-meter high hurdles, 400 intermediate hurdles and 4×400 relay, and then went on to win three more gold medals in the same events in the state federation finals when he defeated the top athletes from Division I, Division II and the state’s private and parochial schools.

Tucker is one of the toughest competitors that Huntington has ever fielded in any sport. Despite achieving mind-boggling individual honors, the athlete puts his team above himself. The senior notched the fastest 400 relay split, 47 seconds, of the weekend, which is an impressive feat considering he competed in multiple events and was running on “tired legs.”

“A gold medal is the great achievement and honor that a high school athlete can receive,” Tucker said. “But I would swap any title to be given another chance to run with my team.”

It was a special weekend for Kyree Johnson, who captured four gold medals in the 400 dash and 4×400 relay, winning NYSPHSAA Division I and federation crowns.

“There are a lot of great athletes in New York State, especially in the 400 dash,” Johnson said. “Fortunately, I came away with the state title this weekend, not only in the 400, but my relay won as well. I’m very proud of my teammates and very appreciative of my coaches.”

Huntington’s 4x400-meter Shane McGuire, Kyree Johnson, Infinite Tucker and Lawrence Leake broke the Suffolk County and state record in the event to win gold. Photo from Huntington athletics
Huntington’s 4×400-meter Shane McGuire, Kyree Johnson, Infinite Tucker and Lawrence Leake broke the Suffolk County and state record in the event to win gold. Photo from Huntington athletics

In only his second season of flinging the discus, senior Kenny Charles finished third in the state federation on Saturday with a throw of 177 feet, 11 inches, which set a new Huntington school record in the event. The athlete had earlier taken fourth in the NYSPHSAA Division I competition with a throw of 166 feet.

Wilson was happy with Charles’ performance in the Division I finals on Friday.

“No one could have ever predicted that he would throw an additional 12 feet on Saturday,” the coach said. The distance shattered Trayvon Toney’s Huntington record of 170 feet, 7 inches.

“Finally being able to break the school record is a testament to the exceptional coaching of coaches Wilson and Bonhurst,” Charles said. “I only began throwing last season and because of their instruction, I have been able to place in big meets, make it to states and nationals, and break the school record.”

In the 800 run, Shane McGuire finished sixth in NYSPHSAA Division I and eighth in the state federation to grab a bronze medal. The junior also ran on the gold medal winning 4×400 relay.

“Overall, it was a great weekend for the team,” McGuire said. “It was my first time competing individually at the states and although I wish I did a little better, going up against the best in New York was awesome. Most of those competing in the championship were seniors, so that gets me excited for next year.”

Junior Lawrence Leake ran the leadoff leg of the gold medal-winning relay and was sensational before handing the baton off to Johnson.

“We are always looking to impress and standout,” Leake said.

The relay’s time of 3 minutes, 15 seconds set new Suffolk and Huntington records in the event.

“Our 4×400 relay stayed focused,” McGuire said. “Even with three of us running in other events, we were able to still run strong and win with our best time yet.”

The Blue Devils racked up 46 points in the state federation team standings, easily outdistancing runners-up Maine-Endwell and Wilson Magnet School, which scored 26 points. Among competing schools, 71 teams scored at least one point in the competition.

“This has been an incredible season,” Wilson said. “It’s a special group of young men. They have been wonderful ambassadors for Huntington wherever they have gone.”

The Huntington track and field standouts will compete one more time this spring when they travel to the New Balance Nationals Outdoor meet at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro this weekend.

Huntington’s 4x400-meter relay team won the state championships for the second straight year. Photo from Huntington athletics

Forget about being county and state champions, the Huntington boys’ winter track 4×400-meter relay team raced a nation-best 3 minutes, 16.09 seconds at the New Balance Nationals Indoor.

At the Armory in Manhattan, the team topped its previous best mark for the third fastest time ever in New York, and ninth fastest ever nationally. The time also set a new Suffolk County record.

Kyree Johnson ran his quarter in 48.887 seconds, Shane McGuire finished in 49.701 and Lawrence Leake finished the third leg in 49.802, to put the Blue Devils in a position to win. And Infinite Tucker made it happen, turning in a blistering-fast time of 47.708 seconds on the fourth and final leg.

“We won because of hard work and dedication,” Johnson said. “We did it as a family and as a team.”

track_nb_nationals_3wHuntington’s time was slightly more than one second off the fastest mark ever at the New Balance Indoor Nationals and three seconds off the national record of 3:13.06 set by North Carolina’s New Bern High School in 2009.

Huntington’s 1600 sprint medley relay team captured All-American honors as well. Johnson, Leake, McGuire and Tucker finished in a time of 3:30.94 to place sixth in a strong field of 22 behind elite teams from Virginia, Michigan, Louisiana, Massachusetts and North Carolina. The Blue Devils All-American performance marks a new Suffolk County record in the event and is the fastest time in New York State this year.

Johnson and Leake ran the first two legs consisting of 200 meters each, followed by Tucker handling the third leg of 400 and McGuire running the anchor leg of 800.

The school also finished 11th in a field of 45 in the 4×200 relay. The squad’s time of 1:29.68 tied the Suffolk record set by Amityville in 2003. Johnson, Leake, Tucker and Exzayvian Crowell ran the race for the Blue Devils.

“What can you say about these four young men that have been blessed with a rare talent?” Huntington’s head coach Ron Wilson asked of his 4×400 relay team. “They gave this race everything they had and look at what they were able to accomplish. They have made our school and community proud and put Huntington track on the national map.”

Weeks prior, at the New York State Indoor Track & Field Championships at Cornell University, the Blue Devils kept Huntington track on the state map.

The quartet successfully defended its state title from last season with a time of 3:24.02, well off its previous season best before nationals, which was 3:17.36, notched in February at the Millrose Games, but it was still faster than any other relay team in New York.

“From the bus ride up, the only thought in my head was to win,” Johnson said. “Everything was strictly business from then until it was over. Coming home as a two-time state champion was definitely a major goal, but I also wanted to win the 55-meter dash because it was all up to me in that race. After coming in a close second in the 55, I knew I had to let go of that and give all my focus to the 4×400 relay. Seeing your team cross the finish line first again at the state championships is one of the best feelings around.”

Johnson was nipped by 1/100th of a second, clocking in a 6.40 just behind Rochester’s Wilson Magnet senior Kelly Brown.

Johnson wasn’t the only Blue Devil that Brown challenged.

Brown also raced Tucker to try and claim gold. This time, the Blue Devils came out on top, as Tucker won a gold medal in the 55-meter hurdles after clipping the final hurdle and sending it flying before he dove over the finish line. He outraced Brown by 2/1000ths of a second, and his time of 7.38 was seconds off his best of the winter, but good enough for the crown.

Tucker also claimed a silver medal in the long jump. Seeded sixth, the Blue Devils star leaped 23-01.75 feet on his fifth and final jump to finish behind Beacon senior Terrel Davis, who won by soaring 23-07.00 feet.

“Individually we are like a drop of water, but together we are an ocean,” Tucker said. “If there’s one thing that I learned from Coach Wilson and [assistant coach Eli] Acosta, it’s that hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.”

During a March 21 board of education meeting, Superintendent Jim Polansky recognized the boys’ track team for all of its success.

“These kids continue to perform at the highest of levels,” he said. “What really makes us excited about the four of them, if you listen to the interview following the race, what they have to say about all of their experiences in Huntington and their coaches and the staff and just the humility they display, it really makes it all worthwhile.”

With multiple medals around their necks, it’s been worthwhile for the Blue Devils, too.

Alex Petroski contributed reporting.

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Huntington’s 4x400 relay state championship team of Kyree Johnson, Lawrence Leake, Infinite Tucker and Exzayvian Crowell continue to reach new heights. Photo by Darin Reed

Huntington boys’ track and field head coach Ron Wilson had an idea that he could have a strong team for the 2015-16 winter season, but the success they’ve enjoyed was beyond even his expectations.

“We knew that we had quite a few kids returning this season, which would put us at the forefront in Suffolk County,” Wilson said. “We didn’t know that we would be one of the top teams in the state of New York.”

That’s exactly what the Blue Devils were this winter: one of the most electrifying track and field squads in the state. The team is led by their “Fantastic Four,” the nickname given to Huntington’s state champion 4×400-meter relay team from last winter. All four members returned this year. Infinite Tucker, Kyree Johnson, Lawrence Leake and Exzayvian Crowell captured numerous state, county, league and Long Island accolades as a team and individually last year, and this year hasn’t been much different.

The team took the gold in the 4×400 relay at the Suffolk County Championships on Jan. 31 at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Brentwood. They also qualified for Nationals, which will take place on March 11 in New York City. Huntington’s 4×200 relay team also qualified, as did Tucker and Johnson in numerous individual events.

Wilson said it hit him how special this team was at a meet on Jan. 16 at the Molloy Stanner Games at the New Balance Track and Field Center at the Armory in Manhattan.

“We were grooving,” Wilson said with a hearty laugh. On that Saturday in Manhattan, Tucker ran the best time in the country for the winter season in the 600 dash, and Johnson set the mark nationally for the 300 dash, while Leake posted the fourth-best time of the year in the 300. The times were announced to a standing ovation, according to Wilson.

Wilson said one of the biggest surprises of the season was Leake’s performance.

“My time in the 300, I was very proud of,” Leake said.

Johnson indicated that he could tell fairly early on how special the Blue Devils might be.

“Around the first couple of meets, everybody started to show how good they are and the ability they had,” Johnson said.

Johnson credited advice from his older brother Tyreke, who also ran track at Huntington, as being helpful in keeping his competitive edge, despite enormous success.

“The number one thing is to remain humble and don’t look at anybody like they’re not as good as you,” Johnson said. “I have to work my hardest.”

Wilson has been a part of some special teams at Huntington in his nine years leading the high school squad. He coached in the district on the junior high level from 1998 to 2007, when he became an assistant for the high school team under Dennis Walker. Wilson was also a member of the team in 1993 and 1994, when he attended Huntington.

“I didn’t run; I was a thrower,” Wilson said. “I was too big to run.”

The head coach didn’t hesitate for a second when trying to compare this Blue Devils’ team to the numerous versions that he’d had a hand in previously.

“This is by far the best team that I’ve coached,” he said.

Assistant coach Eli Acosta, who said this is his 49th year in the Long Island track and field world, reiterated Wilson’s assessment of the team.

“I can say that this is the best track and field that I’ve ever coached in terms of talent,” Acosta said. “We have very talented athletes, that goes without saying. They also work quite hard.”

Wilson said his team is focused and driven, without being too uptight.

“It’s a well-rounded team,” he said. “They’re nice boys. They can be silly at times, but once they get on the track, it’s always business.”

Tucker and Johnson are undoubtedly the team’s most talented members, though the role of leadership is a shared duty among the entire roster, according to Wilson.

“It’s kind of fun,” Tucker said of his relationship with Johnson. “It’s like running with your brother.”

Acosta admitted that he and Wilson pit Johnson and Tucker against each other in certain events and in practice as a tactic to motivate the star athletes.

“They pick each other up,” Wilson said. “It’s more of the team that leads us, that drives our success, especially amongst our relay team.”

Despite their success, Wilson said he hasn’t seen any lull in the team’s drive or motivation.

“When these kids are able to stay humble and stay low, they’re always able to seek improvement,” Wilson said. “If the competition is not there, you have to compete against yourself.”

All five runners medal at state championship

Infinite Tucker, a Huntington runner, leads the 400-meter hurdles pack at states. Photo from Huntington athletics

Infinite Tucker won a pair of gold medals to lead the Huntington boys’ track and field team to an impressive showing at the state championships in Albany last weekend.

Huntington's Infinite Tucker poses with his medals. Photo from Huntington athletics
Huntington’s Infinite Tucker poses with his medals. Photo from Huntington athletics

Tucker won a pair of 400-meter intermediate hurdles races to capture the New York State Public High School Athletic Association and State Federation titles.

“I thought that I was going to win because I didn’t see anyone in front of me the whole race,” the junior said after the first of his performances Friday afternoon. “It wasn’t my best race ever, but I thought that I ran well.”

Tucker’s time of 52.29 seconds in the federation finals ranks him No. 2 in the state and No. 3 in the country this spring.

He plans to compete in the event one more time this season at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina this week.

Huntington sophomore Kyree Johnson fared well in the 400 dash against a field filled with exceptional athletes. He ran against five seniors in the State Federation finals and finished third in 49.20 seconds. A day earlier, the runner earned a fourth place medal in the NYSPHSAA final. The State Federation races include the top public school, New York City/PSAL and private and parochial school athletes.

Huntington's Kyree Johnson, Scott Gulizio, Infinite Tucker and Shane McGuire won the silver medal in the federation’s 4x400 relay. Photo from Huntington athletics
Huntington’s Kyree Johnson, Scott Gulizio, Infinite Tucker and Shane McGuire won the silver medal in the federation’s 4×400 relay. Photo from Huntington athletics

Johnson’s best time of 48.5 seconds in the 400 dash this spring ranks him No. 1 among all New York sophomores. He too will be racing at nationals.

The long weekend ended on a high note when the Blue Devils’ 4×400 relay won a silver medal in the State Federation race, crossing the finish line in 3 minutes, 16.73 seconds, finishing behind Brooklyn’s Boys and Girls High School. Huntington outraced Newburgh, who had won the NYSPHSAA title only one day earlier.

“What an awesome race,” Huntington head coach Ron Wilson said of the relay. “You just had to be there to witness such excitement. The crowd of people gathered at their feet as the eight remaining young men grabbed the batons.”

Junior Exzayvian Crowell ran with the Blue Devils relay on Friday for the state title, where the team earned a fourth-place finish. Sophomore Shane McGuire took Crowell’s place for Saturday’s State Federation finals, joining Johnson, Tucker and senior Scott Gulizio on the track.

“Shane gave everything he had on the first leg and ran a personal best of 51.4,” Wilson said. “He almost collapsed trying to pass the baton to Scotty Gulizio, who split 49.2, which is good. Gulizio passed to Kyree Johnson who ran a 48.7 split and brought us to third. When our anchor, Infinite Tucker, got the baton, he took off like a jet. He passed the Newburgh anchor, who had won the state crown just the day before. He then set his eyes on the state leader, Boys and Girls, who was about 20 meters ahead of the rest of the field.”

Huntington's Kyree Johnson poses with his medals. Photo from Huntington athletics
Huntington’s Kyree Johnson poses with his medals. Photo from Huntington athletics

The Boys and Girls anchor, Richard Rose had just won the 400 dash in a sizzling 47.11 seconds, so it was a difficult assignment for Tucker to run him down, but the athlete gave it his all, splitting 47.435 seconds, falling just short of first place. Huntington’s time is a new school record and the second best in the state this spring. It’s also the second fastest in Suffolk, ever. Amityville set the record of 3:16.66 in 2002.

“We were just a bit shy of the Section XI record, but we will have one more crack at it at the nationals,” Wilson said.

All five Huntington athletes medaled at the state championships, with Crowell earning one in the NYSPHSAA 4×400 relay race and McGuire getting a silver medal in the State Federation finals. Gulizio won a pair of medals. Johnson and Tucker won four medals each.

“It was an exhausting weekend,” Wilson said, “but well worth it.”

Huntington's Infinite Tucker leaps over the hurdles. File photo by Darin Reed
Huntington’s Infinite Tucker leaps over the hurdles. File photo by Darin Reed

It wasn’t completely smooth sailing, but it all worked out in the end. The Huntington boys’ track and field team overcame several mishaps to qualify athletes in three different events for this week’s state championships in Albany.

Scott Gulizio got off to a slow start in the 800-meter run, falling far behind the leaders at last weekend’s Section XI state qualifier at Port Jefferson. Once the senior finally found his stride, he started passing competitors at a fast clip and managed to finish third in a new school record time of 1 minute, 53.83 seconds, 1.12 seconds behind first place finisher Shamar Powell of Walt Whitman and 49/100ths of a second off the second place pace of Bellport’s Tom Gassner.

Unfortunately for Gulizio, only the first place finisher and a second runner who has met the state-qualifying standard are eligible to advance to the state finals.

“It’s a real shame because Scott is one of the best in the state,” Huntington head coach Ron Wilson said. “Unfortunately, when you fall too far behind off the starting gun, it’s hard make up the deficit in a tough field.”

Kryee Johnson, Infinite Tucker and Exzayvian Crowell are members of the Huntington 4x400-meter relay team. File photo by Darin Reed
Kryee Johnson, Infinite Tucker and Exzayvian Crowell are members of the Huntington 4×400-meter relay team. File photo by Darin Reed

Another hard-to-take result came in the 110 high hurdles. Infinite Tucker struck the second hurdle and nearly came to a complete stop before recovering and speeding to the finish line, crossing third in 14.48 seconds.

The junior failed to qualify in one of his signature events, trailing Copiague’s Aaron McFadden (14.29) and Travon Duncan (14.36).

“Once it was over, all we could do is look ahead to the next race,” Wilson said.

The Blue Devils wouldn’t suffer another letdown.

Sophomore Kyree Johnson finished second in the 400 dash in a school record time of 48.50 seconds to qualify for the state finals in that event. Tucker came back to win the 400 hurdles in 53.14 seconds to also advance to the state championships.

Scott Gulizio leads the pack for Huntington in a previous race. File photo by Darin Reed
Scott Gulizio leads the pack for Huntington in a previous race. File photo by Darin Reed

“Kyree and Infinite both ran really well,” Wilson said. “There is always pressure in this type of meet. You have to be nearly perfect or you’re going to be disappointed in the state qualifier.”

Huntington and Half Hollow Hills West collided in the 4×400 relay, but in the highlight of the day, the Blue Devils won by less than a second to qualify for the state championships.

After running in Friday’s qualifying heat, Exzayvian Crowell stepped aside for alternate Shane McGuire, who ran the first leg in Saturday’s finals. Johnson, Gulizio and Tucker followed with blistering performances.

Huntington’s time of 3:19.17 nipped the Colts, who took second place in 3:19.87.

“It’s awesome,” Gulizio said. “It’s good to see all our hard work this season has paid off. Hopefully we can produce the same kind of results as winter.”