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state championships

The 4x400 relay team of Maritza Blanchard, Jess Faustin, Lexie Roth and Dana Cerbone took home multiple medals a the state track and field meet. Photo from Middle Country school district

By Desirée Keegan

Middle Country’s seniors have shown the strength, determination and dedication to achieve greatness, and now they have the success to prove it was all worth it.

After undergoing six brain surgeries and having a shunt put into her skull to help her manage an incurable disease, Lexi Roth hit the ground running. She helped Middle Country’s 4×400-meter relay team cross the finish line a fraction of a second behind first at the Division I state championships last weekend. The girls clocked in second among Division I schools in 3 minutes, 52.92 seconds. Rush-Henrietta Senior High School finished in 3:52.52.

Maritza Blanchard, above with Bay Shore’s Nia Singer, finished third among all schools in the 400 dash. Photo from Middle Country school district

The quartet, which also includes seniors Dana Cerbone and Maritza Blanchard and sophomore Jessica Faustin, placed fourth among all schools during the June 8 and 9 meet at Cicero-North Syracuse High School.

“That group especially had an immense amount of talent and the work ethic that goes along with that, so I’m not surprised they got where they got to,” said former coach Matt Torres, who worked with the seniors their first two years. “Jessica, being the young one, works incredibly hard. She has some great leaders in front of her.”

Cerbone is about five feet tall, but Torres said you wouldn’t know it. She placed fourth among Division I athletes in the 200 dash (24.94) and fourth overall (25.33).

“Girls tower over her, but she has a bulldog-type mentality,” he said. “It wasn’t just practice, it was after practice that she would want to do more to see if she could get even just a little bit better. She’d push to have that edge, get in the weight room.”

He said none of the athletes would stop between seasons. They showed a desire to remain in shape and continue to try to take their talents to the next level.

“Maritza was always on the brink of being great, and I think coach Cuzzo really helped push her toward that,” he said.

Blanchard also brought home an additional medal with a third-place overall finish in the 400 dash. She crossed the finish line in 56.78. She ranked fifth among Division I schools (57.39) and bounced back to have a better showing in day two.

“Everything is moving in the right direction,” two-year spring track and field coach Charley Cuzzo said. “I’m very proud of how the kids ran. What they’ve been able to do is quite an accomplishment. They were ready to go, and they proved it.”

The quartet came out of nowhere and shot right up to the top. The girls were ranked No. 1 in the state prior to the meet. Cuzzo said they’ve made improvements that are impressive, and ones that the seniors will take with them to the collegiate level.

“They haven’t gotten there by accident,” Torres said. “They got there by how hard they work.

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Sarah Connelly comes in third in 3,000-meter run among Division II teams

Kayleigh Robinson races toward the finish line. Photo from Kayleigh Robinson

Like a quote by R.S. Grey, Kayleigh Robinson believed she could, so she did.

The Mount Sinai junior sprinter’s go-getter attitude motivated her to a first-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles at the state track and field championships last weekend.

Kayleigh Robinson stands atop the 400-meter hurdle podium at the state meet. Photo from Kayleigh Robinson

“Most people get nervous going into a race, but when I go into a race, I think about it as my race,” the five-year varsity standout said. “As you think about what you want, what your goals are — I’ve been training so hard throughout the season for that race, and I was coming down the last 100, 50 meters and I saw the finish line was right there and I was confident. I knew I had to push myself as hard as I could. Visualizing what you want for yourself helps you reach that result.”

She was ranked No. 2 in the state, just half a second behind first, and finished the June 9 race in 1 minute, 3.03 seconds just in front of Bishop Loughlin’s Adia Palmer (1:03.32). She said she would have been happy with any result, laughing that clocking in first though was a nice bonus. Robinson was also on the 4×400 relay that placed eighth in Division II. Even running after individual races, the quartet finished well above its 9:27 time from the previous round with a 4:07.84.

“I wanted to be a state champion, I had my mind set, and I executed,” Robinson said. “But as long as I know I tried my best, I’m happy with whatever time I finish in, whether I win or lose.”

Sophomore Sarah Connelly approached the meet with a similar attitude. The four-year varsity runner placed third in the 3,000 in 9:52.24 and ninth in the 1,500 in 4:36.52.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Connelly said after crossing the finish line. “I was satisfied and amazed. We all push each other to make ourselves better and our success is all because we work together. This team is so supportive.”

Senior Noreen Guilfoyle is a big part of Connelly’s support system, even referring to her as “Mother Noreen.” Guilfoyle said she remembers running side by side with the then seventh-grader‚ recalling Connelly couldn’t take her eyes off her, not looking forward for even a second.

Sarah Connelly and Noreen Guilfoyle following a previous race. Photo from Noreen Guilfoyle

“I might take a little bit of credit for it,” Guilfoyle said of Connelly’s success, laughing. “I’m so proud of her. She’s done everything she’s told to do and I think she has a great career ahead of her.”

Connelly said her teammate, a nine-time state medalist, has helped her excel.

“I’m where I am today because of her,” Connelly said. “She’s unbelievable; I marvel at her. I look up to her. Whenever I had a negative attitude she tells me to shut up and put a smile on my face.”

The sophomore has now taken her own teammate under her wing, freshman Kaitlyn Chandrika, who won the 2,000 steeplechase at the division championships last month and state qualifiers just over a week ago. She finished ninth in the steeplechase and 22nd in the 800 at the state meet.

“I’ve tried to build her up,” Connelly said. “Hopefully I will be the next Noreen.”

Guilfoyle hadn’t had a personal best in quite some time, she said, and using her own encouragement, preaching pace and positivity, scored personal records in the same events Chandrika competed in, placing 15th in the steeplechase.

Noreen Guilfoyle and Sarah Connelly compete alongside one another during a previous race. Photo from Noreen Guilfoyle

“They’re the only team that if someone beats someone else, they turn around and say, ‘Thank you, you made me run faster,’” head coach Bill Dwyer said. “The younger kids wouldn’t be as good if they didn’t have good role models like they do in Noreen and the other seniors. But even I couldn’t have imagined them running that fast. People see all this talent, but it’s basically hard work that gets them there.”

Guilfoyle, Connelly, Chandrika and sophomore Isabella DiPalermo finished 10th in the 4×800. Senior Ebelyn Harriman finished 23rd overall among Division II schools in the pentathlon, and Miller Place senior Jillian Patterson finished eighth among all schools. She finished the 800 portion first in 2:21.29 and racked up 3,150 points overall. For the boys, Mount Sinai junior Kenneth Wei finished second in the 110 hurdles for Division II runners in 14.51 and sixth overall. His younger brother Justin, a sophomore, came in 14th in the pentathlon, crossing the finish line fourth in the high jump, seventh in the 110 hurdles and 10th in the 1,500.

Guilfoyle said her motto has been “one bad race doesn’t define an entire career,” adding going against the best-of-the-best in the state has only helped. She said being on the top team on Long Island during the winter and cross country track seasons and going undefeated for the second year in a row in the spring and winning the county championship has its added benefits.

“It helps you push yourself harder than you would before,” Guilfoyle said of competing on the big stage. “I’ve always aimed to be the best example I can be. For them to look up to me and instill the things I’ve taught them is really rewarding. I feel like I’ve made an impact on their lives, and they’ve made an impact on mine.”

Teams up with twin brother Elijah, Dan O'Connor and Thomas Fodor to take first in 4x800 relay

Isaiah Claiborne crosses the 1,000-meter run finish line at the state championships March 3. Photo from MileSplit

Isaiah Claiborne could see his Fairport foe hot on his trail. Like last year, the 1,000-meter run came down to a final lap sprint, but midway through it, Claiborne kicked it into high gear and never looked back. The Northport senior crossed the finish line in a state-championship winning 2 minutes, 26.95 seconds at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex on Staten Island March 3.

“A week ago my arm was too locked up and I knew I needed to work on that,” Claiborne said. “Today, I got out and I just wanted to be fast, especially since I was on the outside. I didn’t want to be slow to get stuck behind. I left it all on the track.”

Elijah Claiborne comes in a photo-finish second place in the 1,600-meter run. Photo from MileSplit

After leading early in the race, Claiborne fell into third place, but worked his way back into prime position. With 150 meters left, and the field looking like it might leave him behind, he made the move that made all the difference. His time was a new school record and second-best in New York State. It also set a new meet record, breaking Liam Purdy of North Rockland’s 2014 mark of 2:27.63.

“It’s awesome to come out here and win among big competition,” Claiborne said. “I tried to stay relaxed, make it my own race and not get too nervous. My coach says stay composed, stay relaxed, and that’s what I did.”

Of three sets of twins in contention to sweep events at states, Claiborne’s twin brother Elijah was closest to making it happen. Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed got in the way though, maintaining his lead to the end line to come through with a photo-finish win. The two runners completed the 1,600 in 2:15.543 and 2:15.548 in a race where no one person stayed in first for long.

Northport’s 4×800 relay team of twin brothers Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were crowned public school state champs. Photo from NYSPHSAA

“After just missing placing at states last year, I used that emotion to propel me toward the finish line.” Ahmed said. “I knew the race was going to be tight — anybody had a chance to win. I stayed with the pack and kicked fast at the end.”

Babylon’s Vlad Cullinane, who has been the top high jumper in the state all season, made it official by clearing six feet, seven inches. Shoreham-Wading River’s Richard Casazza was second, clearing 6-6.

“I was battling with [Casazza] all season and we were inches away from each other,” Cullinane said. “Every time I saw him miss, it felt pretty good. I was working on my form, and it feels great to beat him again.”

Northport’s 4×800 relay quartet of Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne, Dan O’Connor and Thomas Fodor were also public school state champions, completing the event in 7:56.52. The same team minus Fodor, finished first in the outdoor state championship last year.

“I don’t like going head-to-head,” Isaiah Claiborne joked. “My guys always give me a gap so I don’t have to worry about it.”

He and the rest of his relay team will compete at New Balance Indoor Nationals March 9-11 at the Armory Track in New York City.

“I won’t think about it too much,” Claiborne said heading into this weekend. “I’m definitely confident, and I’m going to take it all in.”

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