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Sam Rutt

Senior duo of Allyson Gaedje, Sam Rrutt one-two in 800-meter run; 4x800 relay places third

Kiera Hughes flies over the hurdles. File photo by Bill Landon

By Desirée Keegan

Kiera Hughes couldn’t contain her excitement as she rushed off the track toward her family and friends. It was a moment she’d worked day and night for — ensuring she could race just one more time.

The Ward Melville senior crossed the 100-meter hurdle finish line in 14.76 seconds for first place at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Kiera Hughes shows off her new hardware alongside head coach J.P. Dion following her state-qualifying win. Photo from Kiera Hughes

“Really, I took it even slower than that,” Hughes said. “I just wanted to live another day past the preliminary round. I wanted to do as best I could to make sure that I’d qualify to race in the finals.”

She got that and so much more.

“Running — it was so much fun,” Hughes said. “I felt so fast going over the hurdles, I felt so powerful. I was so determined because I really, really wanted to win. And to cross that finish line and see my name at the top of the leaderboard I was ecstatic. I was beyond happy.”

Head coach J.P. Dion and her teammates were cheering her on as she flew down the track. They were on the sideline to congratulate her with hugs and praise following her finish.

“Kiera Hughes has amazed me all year long,” Dion said. “When the pressure is on her she seems to rise to the top — just an amazing competitor.”

Some of the hurdler’s teammates will be taking the trip with her to the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9.

Seniors Allyson Gaedje (2:14.82) and Sam Rutt (2:14.93) pulled off a one-two finish in the 800 run and were a part of the 4×800 relay team that finished third.

“We planned on trying to run the race together,” said Rutt, who also came in second (4:38.02) in the 1,500 just a few seconds behind Shoreham-Wading River phenom Katherine Lee. “We do most of our workouts together, so it was relaxing to be by each other’s side in such a big race like that.”

Gaedje didn’t have the state standard in the 800, or time needed during the regular season at a sanctioned qualifying meet, to compete at states, so she needed a higher placement. Because Rutt already did, having to finish in at least second, so she eased off.

Allyson Gaedje races down the track. File photo by Bill Landon

“When you’re running with your teammate, there’s a little extra motivation to push yourself,” Gaedje said. “We’re all more focused this year, and it’s shown making our times — we’ve seen we can and have run some strong times, so we’re confident. We’re running faster than ever.”

Senior Sam Sturgess and sophomore Elizabeth Radke rounded out the relay quartet that crossed the finish line in 9:35.88. The same girls have been competing together the last couple years, placing third in the state this past indoor season and at New Balance Outdoor Nationals last June.

Dion said he’s continuously tried to get his student-athletes to believe in the process, and more importantly, in themselves. Over the years, as Gaedje pointed out, it’s led to results.

“These kids competing this weekend have been the heartbeat of Ward Melville girls track over the past four years,” he said. “This has been a very special group for us.”

And a group of seniors that, although close to graduating, are still anxious to get back on the track.

“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to race as fast as I can, and I’m hoping for a new personal record and to stay up there with all of the other girls that are competing,” Hughes said. “I’m a pretty determined person — I always was to improve myself and push myself. I’m looking to be a role model for the younger girls and race another day.”

Ward Melville's 4x800-meter relay team placed third at New Balance Nationals June 18. Photo from Christy Radke

Ward Melville spring track and field head coach J.P. Dion sent a text to his 4×800-meter girls relay team the day of the national race: “Believe in yourself, like I believe in you.”

The girls had shaved 15 seconds off their time and bested a school record in the process at the state-qualifying meet a few weeks earlier. Despite a letdown, falling to sixth after going in as the No. 2 seed in the state meet, the Patriots believed and pushed themselves to the limit to reverse the drop in the standings with a third-place finish at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina June 18. Placing in the Top 6 also earned them All-American status.

“They have that fire, and they harnessed it,” Dion said. “They’re more than willing to work, and there’s big things to come here at Ward Melville with these girls.”

Ward Melville’s 4×800-meter relay team of Allyson Gaedje, Samantha Sturgess, Elizabeth Radke and Samantha Rutt following the third-place finish at New Balance Nationals June 18. Photo from Christy Radke

The quartet of soon-to-be seniors Sam Rutt, Sam Sturgess and Allyson Gaedje and will-be sophomore Elizabeth Radke started the 2017 season like any other. The four had competed in both the 4×800 and 4×400 relay, outrunning the school record for the latter in 2016. As the weeks passed, the girls weren’t sure which race would be the focus come county and state championship-time. That is, until the school record-shattering 9 minute, 1.81 second finish at the state-qualifying meet at Warwick Valley High School.

The team needed to finish second or better to be able to compete in the state championship. With anchor Gaedje, or “Gator” as her teammates call her, racing to a hard-fought finish against a top-tier competitor in Shoreham-Wading River’s Katherine Lee, she knew it’d come down to the wire.

“I always race against her, so I knew it’d be difficult, but I just wanted to do my best,” she said.

In a photo finish, Lee beat out Gaedje for second place. Despite the loss, the girls celebrated their historic run. They were competing on a Saturday, and had finished the race in 9:16.61 that previous Tuesday, less than 4/10ths of a second off the state standard of 9:17, which was needed to qualify to compete in the state meet.

“That’s when we knew we had what it takes,” Radke said.

Her teammates agreed, especially after easily surpassing the 2011 school record of 9:10.56.

“We were hoping just to get the state standard — we thought the school record was almost untouchable,” Rutt said. “It was really emotional. We went to the tent to grab our stuff and Sam [Sturgess] and Gator were hugging each other on the track, and J.P. Dion called us over and asked us why we’re crying.”

That’s when the Patriots found out Shoreham-Wading River had been disqualified following a judgment call from one of the officials. Lee had changed lanes rounding a bend, instead of taking the straight path, which officials argued forced Gaedje to run a longer distance.

“I was perfectly fine not going to states because they ran their socks off,” Dion said. “They really performed well. Just the fight in that race was good enough for me as a coach.”

Ward Melville’s 4×800-meter relay team of Allyson Gaedje, Sam Rutt, Elizabeth Radke and Sam Sturgess were crowned All-Americans for finishing in the Top 6 at New Balance Nationals. Photo by Desirée Keegan

The girls’ race game wasn’t up to par come states, and they knew that after a big letdown, they needed to believe in themselves, like Dion said, in order to pull out an All-American finish.
“After we ran a 9:01, we realized it’s time to get serious, and we can do something other than just show up,” Sturgess said. “Competing in that atmosphere gets you serious.”

As the leadoff runner, Sturgess knew she needed to set the tone.

“I had to get us off to a good start,” she said. “I wanted to be in the Top 6 to get us that All-American status. That’s what we’ve been working on and working toward. We were motivated.”

She made her way to sixth before she handed the baton off to Radke, who said she has always had a problem controlling her anxiety heading into a race.

“I was freaking out,” she said, laughing while still showing that nervousness. “I kept telling myself ‘maintain and kick, maintain and kick.’ I didn’t want to get passed, because that gets me down, so I kept my spot, and ended up moving up a couple of spots before handing off to my teammate and hoping for the best.”

Rutt was next in line, who helped move the team to fourth before passing the baton to Gaedje.

“It was a little bit of a mind game, because we had to think to states and remember how bad we did and how we needed to pick it up,” Rutt said. “It’s cool to see what you can do when you put your mind to it. It’s so mental — how far you can push your body. The way Gator races, she’s so driven. I knew that as long as I got her in a good enough spot that’d be good enough for us.”

As she crossed the finish line, Gaedje said she couldn’t believe what her Patriots had done.

“My head was a little fuzzy,” she said, laughing. “I was a little tired, my legs were burning, and it took a little while to process, but my teammates came over and hugged me. I couldn’t believe it.”

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