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Patriots relay team places first at Millrose Games, counties

Allyson Gaedje crosses the finish line at the New York Road Runner Millrose Games finals for first place. Photo from Tom Youngs

They’ve had that feeling before — the pit in their stomach as they watched Gator run.

This wasn’t the typical scaly, dark olive-brown reptile the Ward Melville 4×400-meter relay team was watching. It was their anchor — Allyson “Gator” Gaedje.

She was sprinting across the final stretch of the race at the New York Road Runners Millrose Games Feb. 3, maintaining her Patriots’ lead with Westhampton Beach hot on her trail.

Ward Melville’s 4×400-meter relay quartet of Allyson Gaedje ,Elizabeth Radke, Sam Rutt and Sam SturgessPhoto from Tom Youngs

“So many things are going through your mind, but you really can’t process anything except ‘Gator, hold on, Gator, hold on,’” said leadoff runner Sam Rutt, who on the track was with teammates Elizabeth Radke and Sam Sturgess watching Gaedje as she beat Westhampton to the finish line. “Her smiling as she crossed the finish line ­— it was the best feeling for all of us.”

The Patriots completed the race in 3 minutes, 57.84 seconds for Ward Melville’s first win at the Millrose Games.

“It didn’t feel real,” said senior Sam Sturgess, who passed the baton off to Gaedje. “We’ve been told we can do it, but seeing it happen was unreal.”

Gaedje credited visualization as a strength in her preparation to compete.

“I like to picture how I want it to go, and it helps because once you’re in the race, you don’t have a lot of time to think, but you already have that mental image in your head — It makes it easier to stay focused on the goal,” she said. “Once I got the baton I was ready to get around the track as fast as I could.”

The team maintained it’s No. 1 position the entire way, a goal of Rutt’s. Being in Lane 6 she said she couldn’t see anyone behind her, and she wanted to keep it that way.

“I thought if no one could catch me we’d be in good shape,” the senior said.

“It takes brave individuals to dig in their heels and be patient to do things the right way, and to look ahead to the long term by believing and trusting in the process.”

— Tom Youngs

Westhampton stayed close behind, and after a shaky handoff to Radke, the Patriots fell to second.

“I went a little earlier than I should have,” the sophomore said. “I tried to do everything in my power to race well.”

Head coach Tom Youngs said after a sub-par fall cross country season, his runners are starting to come back around, getting back to the shape they were in at the end of last spring, where the same quartet capped off a highlight year with a third-place finish in the 4×800 relay at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals.

“It takes brave individuals to dig in their heels and be patient to do things the right way, and to look ahead to the long term by believing and trusting in the process,” Youngs said. “The effort and grit shown that Saturday was a direct result of these girls working to be the best versions of themselves each and every day. I could not be more proud of them, and I am blessed to have the opportunity to be a small part of their outstanding journey around the oval.”

The win motivated the relay team to finish first the following day at the Suffolk County indoor championship. Gaedje also won the 600 in 1:39.67, and Rutt took first in the 1,000 in 3:07.57. It was only Rutt’s second time competing in the event.

“I was surprised,” she said of placing first. “But I was comfortable, hanging back to make sure she had enough momentum left to propel her the last few meters. It was all about me staying on top of the others girls to get as many points as I could for us to compete for a team title.”

Kiera Hughes leaps over the hurdles in the 55-meter dash. She broke the school record twice. Photo from Kiera Hughes

Senior Kiera Hughes, who has been improving on her times all season, finished the 55 hurdles in 8.73, good for second in the county. Sophomore Megan Wood took seventh in the shot put with a throw of 33 feet, 8.5 inches, her personal best.

Hughes first broke the school record of 8.74, set in 2003, with an 8.63 finish. At the league championship, she broke her own record with an 8.60.

“I’m proud of the results of all my hard work thus far,” Hughes said, adding that breaking the school record, which is also the state standard, was a goal of hers. “I had wanted to set a time that I could kind of strive for. Going into each race I want to get better — just keep trying to beat myself. I’m my own best competition.”

After competing in her first state qualifier last season without the state standard, she’s more confident competing this time around, being ranked second in the county by a 100th of a second.

The Patriots will compete in the state qualifier meet held at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.

“I’m a very determined person,” Hughes said. “I’ve also wanted to be the best in whatever I can. I want to improve myself every single race. I’m extremely competitive, so I think my work ethic — going through my drills, my warmup route — I’m doing the best I can to prepare myself to race as best as I can be. It’s all for the excitement and that thrill.”

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Ward Melville’s 200-yard medley relay finished third in the state championship at Ithaca College. Photo from Sydney Boals

By Desirée Keegan

When Sydney Boals touched the wall during the state championship preliminary round of the 200-yard medley relay a second behind the swimmer next to her, she knew she had some stiff competition.

“I knew I had to have that fast turn, have a good breakout and sprint all the way to finish,” the freshman said. “I knew I had to go hard, so when I was swimming I just kept my head down, thought about trying my best and sprinted.”

As her Ward Melville swimming teammate Kaitlyn Ehlers capped off the race at Ithaca College Nov. 18, the quartet looked up at the scoreboard to see a 1 minute, 47.98 second finish, good for third place.

The Ward Melville swimming team’s
200-yard medley relay quartet
stands on the podium. Photo from
Sydney Boals

“I was super happy, and I thought everyone else was too,” said Sydney, who swam the breaststroke as the third leg. “We didn’t have our best time, unfortunately, but it was still a really good race and we made our coaches proud.”

Senior Victoria Bogdanski and sophomore Riley Gavigan were also members of the state championship-placing relay. Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said he was excited to see his young team put up the numbers it did.

“Not everyone gets to have this experience,” he said before talking about Bogdanski in particular. “She was thrilled, and being a senior the moment really hit her. There were tears of happiness and sadness knowing her 10-year swimming journey was coming to an end. She’s a great person, a great kid. She works really hard. You get what you put into it, and she put in the effort.”

The four girls hadn’t swum as a unit until the county competition, where the relay team placed first in 1:47.86. The Patriots were the No. 5 seed heading into the state preliminary round, and exited the first heat in the No. 4 spot before placing third in the finals.

“I was watching, shouting, getting excited with each turn, seeing if they hit the wall well, come off the wall hard — I just hoped they’d come out of the water happy with their time,” Gordon said as he was watching his relay in the finals. “They didn’t know each other’s cadence, their pace and it’s a pretty good job on their part getting together and getting in sync for such big meets.”

Boals finished with a personal best time of 1:55.19 in the 200 freestyle, good for 12th and just shy of breaking a school record. Gavigan placed 10th in the 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:05.41.

“They swim all these events on Friday and come back on Saturday to swim them all again and it’s tiring,” Gordon said. “Their bodies can only give so many ‘A’-type efforts in a row in such a short period of time, and I thought their positive mindsets were great even after they finished.”

Members of Ward Melville’s relay team. Photo from
Sydney Boals

Riley finished the day in high spirits, saying her time wasn’t going to get her down.

“The other girls were a little nervous with it being their first time but I tried to get them to look at it like any other meet,” she said. “In the beginning of the season we were trying to qualify for the state meet, we didn’t have winning counties or even placing in the Top 20 at states in our heads. It was really surprising and I’m really proud of our team. We’re motivated, ready for next year.”

Gordon said he’s looking forward to seeing what his team can do next season.

“They should be thinking they have the opportunity to come back next year if they continue to work hard and do the right thing,” he said. “Their finish was pretty darn good, and I think the team really shocked a lot of people. This is one of my most memorable years — I’ve been here 24 years — I’ll look back on it fondly. To be able to come back next year and have another crack at it, it’s an awesome opportunity. I hope they leave this year inspired going into the offseason.”

Boals said she expects the team will be back better than ever.

“We can be great in the future bringing back some really fast swimmers,” she said. “I just wanted to make Section XI proud and make Ward Melville look good. We’re good with what we can do and we’re proud of what we’ve been able to do. We’ll be back here next year — we’re going to have an even better, faster future.”

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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.”

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