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state qualifier

Northport’s Elijah and Isaiah Claiborne. Photo from Twitter

Northport senior distance runner Elijah Claiborne isn’t showing signs of slowing down. His 4 minute, 11.47 second finish in the 1,600-meter run earned him first place at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Huntington hurdler Jonathan Smith. Photo by Mike Connell

He will compete with other winners in the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8 and 9.

Claiborne had come in second in a photo finish in the indoor state track and field finals this past March with Schenectady’s Maazin Ahmed. The Northport runner’s indoor time had been seconds slower than his outdoor (4:15.548).

The half of Northport’s twin brother power duo also placed first in the 800, clocking in at 1:54.06. Isaiah Claiborne came in second in the 400 dash in 49.71.

Other Tigers took home top spots during the weekend-long meet. Senior Dan O’Connor finished third in 3,200 run in 9:40.92. Junior Sean Ryan placed fourth in the 1,600, crossing the finish line in 4:18.47, and classmate Sydney Rohme placed first in girls pentathlon with a school record-breaking 3,263 points.

Huntington thrower Clay Jamison. Photo by Mike Connell

Huntington also had multiple track and field athletes excel with career days.

Huntington senior Clay Jamison came in second in the shot put with a 51-0.25 toss. The throw ties him for the top spot in the county (across all divisions) with Commack’s Steven Vasile.

Huntington junior Jonathan Smith placed second in the 400 hurdles in 55.17. He caught up to the pack in the final turn and passed Bellport’s Kyler Pizzo and Comsewogue’s Travis Colon down the stretch to claim his first individual county crown.

Smith also placed fourth in the long jump with a 21-2 leap.

Huntington’s 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams finished third, and junior Keily Rivas came in third in the 1,500 race-walk in 6:52.33.

Smithtown West’s Nick Cipolla leads the pack. Photo from Facebook

Gabby Griffin gave it her all in what could have been her final race across the hurdles, and clocked in with a top spot and a personal best.

The Comsewogue senior sprinted her way to a third-place finish in the 400-meter hurdles, clocking in at 1.03.94 seconds at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School.

Travis Colon races down the track during the 55-meter hurdle during the last indoor season. File photo by Bill Landon

Griffin was also part of Comsewogue’s 4×400 relay and placed third in 3:57.53 that move on to the state finals with other top county winners at the state championship at Cicero-North Syracuse High School June 8-9.

Sabrina Donoghue, Brianna Quartararo and Annalise Russo rounded out the relay, which set a new school record, breaking its own record of 4:02.34 by almost five seconds.

Comsewogue junior Travis Colon came in third in the 110 hurdles (15.06) and fourth in the 400 hurdles (56.40).

Comsewogue Fernando Toledo third in the 400 dash, clocking in at 49.72.

Middle Country’s Maritza Blanchard blasted her way to the finish line, twice.

She took first in the 400-yard dash by clocking in at 56.39 and ran the anchor leg of the 4x400 relay team that placed first.

The relay team of Blanchard, Dana Cerbone, Jess Faustin and Lexie Roth, which now ranks second in the sate, crossed the finish line in 3:52.96. 

Her teammate, Cerbone, who ran the third leg of the relay, also capitalized on two opportunities, sprinting her way to second in the 200 dash with a time of 25.37.

Middle Country’s he 4×400 relay team of Maritza Blanchard, Jess Faustin, Lexie Roth and Dana Cerbone.

Nick Cipolla can also run.

The Smithtown West senior crossed the 3,200-meter run finish line in 9:27.31 for first place.

Other area runners excelled in the 3,200.

Northport senior Dan O’Connor came in third (9:40.92), Smithtown East junior Kevin Cawley fourth (9:41.44), Smithtown West junior John Cuff fifth (9:42.91) and Northport sophomore Thomas Fodor sixth (9:47.13).

Smithtown West junior Nick DeFelice finished second in the 3,000 steeplechase (9:44.70). Smithtown East’s Cawley came in fourth (20:02.76).

Smithtown West junior Emily Eng placed second in the pole vault with a 10-6 leap.

Kings Park junior Mike Perez jumped 6-2 in the high jump for a fourth-place finish.

Katherine Lee races in the 1,000-meter run during the indoor track and field season. File photo by Bill Landon

Katherine Lee was off to the races at the Suffolk County track and field individual championship/state qualifier June 2 and 3 at Comsewogue High School and crossed her senior season finish lines in typical
Wildcats fashion — by winning the 1,500- and 3,000-meter runs. She finished first in the 1,500 in 4 minutes, 34.25 seconds and the 3,000 in 9:58.42.

Mount Sinai’s Kenneth Wei leaps over a hurdle during an earlier meet this season. File photo by Bill Landon

Lee said her result was not what she’d hoped, saying she’s been under the weather, but hopes to finish stronger when she competes with the other winners in the state championship at Cicero North Syracuse
High School June 8 and 9.

Mount Sinai sophomore Sarah Connelly came in third in the 1,500, crossing the finish line in 4:38.07. Connelly also came in second in the 3,000 in 9:59.99.

Mount Sinai freshman Kaitlyn Chandrika used a quick start to roll to a 6:57.97 victory in the 2,000 steeplechase. Teammate Noreen Guilfoyle, a senior, placed fourth in 7:13.59. Chandrika also raced to a third-place finish in the 800 with a 2:16.31 behind Ward Melville seniors Allyson Gaedje (2:14.82) and Sam Rutt (2:14.93). Mount Sinai junior Kayleigh Robinson ended up second in a photo finish in the 400 hurdles behind Sachem East’s Kaitlyn Famiglietti. The Flaming Arrows runner clocked in at 1:03.33 while Robinson finished in 1:03.34.

The Mustangs’ 4×800 relay team earned second place with a time of 9:27.52. Miller Place senior Jillian Patterson grabbed second in the pentathlon with a score of 3,059.

Mount Sinai’s Kenneth Wei (14.49 seconds) was just edged by Longwood’s Jaheim Dotson (14.35) in the 110 hurdles. Sophomore Justin Wei, his younger brother, finished fourth (15.67). Kenneth Wei also came in third in the long jump (21-11) and third in the triple jump (44-1).

Miller Place sophomore Tom Cirrito placed fourth in the 800, clocking in at 1:56.20. Mount Sinai senior Jack Pilon came in sixth (1:59.11).

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.”

Northport's Isaiah Claiborne leads the 1,000-meter run pack. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Just when Kiera Hughes thought she couldn’t get any better, she did.

The Ward Melville condnior hurdler raced 55 meters in a blazing 8.5 seconds, finishing in the top spot at the state qualifier Feb. 12. Her time on the Suffolk County Community College Brentwood track marked her third personal best of the season and the second time she’s beaten her own school record.

Ward Melville hurdler Kiera Hughes beaming with joy following her new personal record and first-place finish. Photo by Bill Landon

“That’s a huge improvement,” she said, unable to control her excitement and glee. “I’m over the moon. I just wanted to go to states, that’s my main goal. I wanted to be the best I can be, and I was.”

She had knocked down the 2003 record (8.74) with a time of 8.63 and shaved that down to 8.6 at the league championship last month.

Her Patriots teammates finished second in 4×800 relay with a time of 9:33.38.

Ward Melville seniors Allyson Gaedje, Sam Rutt and Sam Sturgess, and sophomore Elizabeth Radke joined Hughes in qualifying to compete in the state championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island March 3.

Although the quartet competed in the 4×400 at the Millrose Games on Feb. 3 and Suffolk County championship Feb. 4, Ward Melville stretched the distance because head coach Tom Youngs said the group is strong at running longer distances, being that all four runners take part in the cross country season.

“We feel that we have a better chance of going after a state title in the 4×800 as opposed the 4×400,” Youngs said. “Last year we did the double at Millrose Games, but that spread our kids a little too thin, so we want to focus more on just a single event, which is what we did.”

Gaedje who runs the final leg in both relays, said there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

Northport’s Dan O’Connor and Sean Ryan finish behind one another in the 3,200-meter run. Photo by Bill Landon

“I felt a little heavy throughout,” she said. “It wasn’t my best, but I’m happy that we made states and hopefully we can do better there.”

Northport swept the top two positions in the boy’s 3,200 run, where Dan O’Connor edged teammate Sean Ryan by just over a second, clocking in at 9:37.28. The Tigers placed first in the 4×800 relay led by seniors O’Connor, Claiborne brothers Isaiah and Elijah, and sophomore Thomas Fodor, who tripped the clock at 8:08.99. Elijah Claiborne finished first in the 1,600 with a time of 4:20.78, while his brother finished in the top spot in the 1,000 with a time of 2:32.45. Ward Melville’s Danny Ryan came in third in 2:36.31 in the 1,000, and his Patriots teammate Eric Zulkofske placed second in the 1,600 just hundredths of a second behind Claiborn with a 4:20.95 finish.

Untouchable in the boys high jump was Babylon’s Vladislav Cullinane, who cleared the bar at 6 feet, 9 inches, but Shoreham-Wading River senior Richard Casazza qualified for states with a second-place jump of 6 feet, 6 inches, as did Kings Park’s Michael Perez, who cleanly cleared 6 feet, 2 inches.

Hauppauge’s Nick Crociata, the fastest returner from last season’s state championship 600 race, qualified with a 1:22.39 second victory at the event. Huntington’s Jonathan Smith finished the event in third place with a time of 1:23.08. Mount Sinai’s Kenneth Wei came in a close second in three events. He competed the 55 hurdles two hundredths of a second behind the first-place runner, crossing the line in 7.58, and .25 inches behind first in the long jump, with a leap of 21 feet, 9 inches. Wei finished the triple jump tied with Riverhead’s Kian martelli for second, with 43 feet, 10 inches.

Shoreham-Wading River’s Katherine Lee competes in the 1,000-meter run. Photo by Bill Landon

Shoreham-Wading River phenom Katherine Lee was at the top of her field in the 1,000, finishing with ease. The senior dashed across the finish line in 2:52.58, the fastest time on Long Island this season, according to milesplit.com. Seven seconds behind her was freshman Kaitlyn Chandrika of Mount Sinai, who finished in 2:59.41, just getting past Gabby Schneider of Smithtown East, who crossed the finish line in 2:59.95.

Lee, who has yet to win an indoor state title, said the accolades are great, but to her, it’s all about getting ready for making a collegiate debut at Georgetown University.

“I’m looking for personal records — I just want to better myself, and if a state title comes with that it’s great,” she said. “I’m so excited about attending school in the fall that I have a countdown clock on my phone marked for Aug. 19.”

In her last appearance on the Suffolk indoor track, Lee reflected on all the memories she made over the last five years.

“Probably my fondest memory here is when we won the small school county championship,” she said. “So competing here is a bittersweet goodbye. The plan for this race was to go out hard and see what happens, and although I didn’t quite run the time I wanted in every sector, I’m in good shape. With someone on my back … I can go a little faster.”

This version corrects the spelling of the Claiborn brothers’ last name.

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Patriots claim county crown for first time in three years

Ward Melville’s swim team may have thought it was a rebuilding year, but the Patriots proved they’re faster builders than some might have expected.

After claiming the Suffolk County crown 23 years in a row, the Patriots had placed fourth and fifth at the last two county meets. This year, Ward Melville returned to form, taking home the League II title with a perfect 6-0 record, and retrieving the county championship at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Nov. 4 with 269 points, well ahead of Connetquot with 231 points and Northport-Commack with 225.

“I don’t think going into the season we were looking at a possible county championship to be honest,” Ward Melville head coach Chris Gordon said. “We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me. We still had depth, which has always been a team strength at Ward Melville, but some of these young girls shined.”

The team’s 200-yard medley relay opened the meet and finished first in 1 minute, 47.86 seconds to beat a 2012 school record. First off the block was senior Victoria Bogdanski.

“We have a very young team and we thought we were rebuilding, but these girls surprised me.”

—Chris Gordon

“I just thought about trying my best and being there for my team,” she said. “We didn’t know we were close to the record, so once we finished the race, we were all so excited. We all had this motivation and excitement that carried through the meet.”

Riley Gavigan, Sydney Boals and Kaitlyn Ehlers finished out the relay with personal-best times. Gavigan said she too was only thinking about her team.

“I wanted to score points, so I was going as fast as I could,” she said. “I knew I wouldn’t just let down myself, I’d be letting down my whole team. We had to be in the right mindset, and we got each other pumped and ready to win.”

Gavigan qualified for three individual events, the 100 breaststroke, 100 backstroke and 200 individual medley but could only compete in two, forgoing the backstroke.

The sophomore placed second in both, finishing the individual medley in 2:08.22 and breaststroke in a school-record time of 1:04.98, just a hair off first-place finisher Margaret Purcell of Southampton, who won in 1:04.34. Gavigan said she was not expecting to break a Ward Melville record that had stood since 1990 in the individual medley, the only record Gordon had not seen broken during his tenure.

“I want to improve every year,” she said. “So heading into the meet I had tunnel vision. I was focused on myself and not everyone else around me.”

Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example.”

— Chris Gordon

Boals qualified to compete in four events — the 100 and 200 freestyles, 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke — deciding to take part in both freestyles. She placed first in the 100 in 53.13 seconds and second in the 200 in 1:54.14.

“I was shocked I won the 100 freestyle — those girls were a lot older than me,” she said. “I’m usually a mid-distance competitor, so I was excited to get that time.”

She broke a 2009 record in the 100 freestyle at the league meet and outdid her time on the county stage. She said it only motivates her to dig deeper.

“We knew we had to show we were ready and we weren’t afraid of losing,” Boals said. “Now I know I can get even faster than I am now.”

Gordon said Boals and Gavigan mean a lot to the team, and noted their impact on the other girls.

“They’re both mentally tough kids and they like to compete and they like to race,” he said. “Sydney’s not the kind that backs down — she’s no wilting flower, she likes to meet the challenge and she wants to see the best swimmer. Riley is quieter, not as vocally out there, but she works hard and leads by example. Whatever I ask her to do, there’s never a problem. It’s never an issue.”

Ward Melville’s 400 freestyle relay team, which comprised Gavigan, Boals, Ehlers and Kylie Kramer, also qualified. The quartet finished third with a time of 3:40.13. Ehlers also finished ninth in the 100 butterfly; Kramer finished sixth in the 500 freestyle; and the 200 freestyle of Kramer, Hope Farrell, Frances Clever and Sophia Swanson finished third in 1:45.02. Bogdanski reached the finish line eighth in the 100 backstroke.

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores.”

— Chris Gordon

“We had 15 girls make the state qualifying meet, and 23 out of the 27 spots that we competed in we had best times or best dive scores,” Gordon said. “At this point in the season, for them to be swimming as fast as they are and as young as they are, it’s exciting. We will be graduating 10 or 12 seniors, but right now we’re gathering steam and all of the sudden everyone is dropping time and everyone is doing really well.”

The season started off with a bump in the road for the Patriots. Ward Melville lost its opening nonleague meet to a tough Connetquot team, now the county runner-up for the last three seasons, but bounced back to top rival Half Hollow Hills, the defending county champion from last year.

“We worked our hearts out and tried to do our best,” Boals said. “We wanted the seniors to leave with a county championship. We wanted them to have fun and coach to be proud and once we beat Half Hollow Hills and we won the league, we knew we had counties in the bag.”

Gavigan said the momentum will propel the team toward success this weekend in the state finals Nov. 17 and 18 at Ithaca College.

“We were the No. 3 seed heading into counties, so it was good to win and show the other teams that we’re right there with them,” she said. “We’re in the right mindset to place well at states.”

If the county meet was any indication, Gordon said, the girls are peaking at the right time.

“They work very hard, they get along very well in and out of the pool and they’re just a great bunch of girls,” he said. “Some of their siblings have been past members of the team, so there’s some legacy there and they take this seriously. They’re very dedicated, which I appreciate. I’m hoping everyone has a little more left in the tank to go a little faster this weekend.”

Redeems last season’s one-hole playoff loss for runner-up status

Port Jefferson's Shane DeVincenzo bested his last season runner-up record by placing first in the Suffolk County championship Nov. 4. Photo from Port Jefferson athletics

By Jim Ferchland

For Shane DeVincezo, the mental game of golf has always been his focus. The Port Jefferson junior came into the Nov. 3 Suffolk County championship hoping to place in the Top 9, as is his goal every season, and after finishing with a 69, 2-under par, on the first day of the tournament Nov. 2, he knew he was in a good place to keep pushing toward his target position.

“I thought, if I try to go out there and win, the Top 9 will just automatically happen,” he said. “If I try to go for Top 9 and just worry about that and not push for the lead, I think I’ve got a good chance. I thought, with the position I’m in right now, there’s no doubt I can make states.”

With his first place Suffolk County finish, Port Jefferson golfer Shane DeVincenzo qualified to compete in the state tournament. Photo by Jim Ferchland

DeVincenzo followed up his day one performance with an even-par 71 Friday to capture the county title with a 36-hole total of 140, good for 2-under-par at Manorville’s Rock Hill Golf and Country Club.

The Port Jefferson golfer avenged his second-place finish from last year’s tournament in capturing the top spot. In 2016 he lost to East Hampton’s Turner Foster on a one-hole playoff. Foster finished tied for second in Suffolk Nov. 3.

Port Jefferson head coach Chuck Ruoff said he is proud of what his athlete has accomplished.

“He wasn’t going to let last year define him,” Ruoff said. “I know that in his heart last year gave him a lot of motivation. For two days he just went out and played his best.”

DeVincenzo overcame a rocky front nine in the first round by his standards, shooting one over to start his tournament. He rallied after that and finished three under on the back nine for the best score of the day.

“I felt I did really good,” DeVincenzo said on his performance on that back nine. “I wouldn’t say it was really a bad front nine — the front nine is a lot harder here and you just gotta get through it. On the back nine, my putter got rolling and I made a lot of good putts which saved me. Three under par is pretty good.”

He said there was something familiar about the Manorville course that he thought gave him an advantage.

“These greens are kind of like Port Jeff,” DeVincenzo said. “They’re just a little more sloped, but distance-wise and yardage-wise, they’re practically the same. Playing at Port Jeff definitely helps playing at Rock Hill.”

Port Jefferson junior Shane DeVincenzo swings away during the first of the two-day Suffolk County championship tournament. Photo by Jim Ferchland

Ruoff has been by DeVincenzo’s side since he starting golding in eighth grade, and said he’s in awe of the 16-year-old’s abilities.

“It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Ruoff said of DeVincenzo’s talent. “He picked up the game somewhat late for someone who’s got to this ability level. Just between how hard he works and the instruction he’s given, it’s just really hard to explain. Year to year he’s made huge jumps in his game.”

Although DeVincenzo also trains at Port Jefferson Country Club under head professional Bill Mackedon, he said he looks at Ruoff like his best friend, adding that his coach makes the game a lot easier.

“We bond very well — I really like him as a coach,” he said. “Ever since I started in eighth grade, he’s been there as a supporter. Even when I’m struggling he’s there to help me. I have him to back me up and he helps me boost up my confidence.”

DeVincenzo golfed in a foursome Nov. 3 along with Pierson’s Henry Brooks, Eastport-South Manor’s Andrea Ternavasio and Sayville’s Sean Haselton. DeVincenzo has played with his Sayville opponent before.

“Me and Shane have been playing together for a long time,” Haselton said. “He got hot with the putter today and that’s what did it for him. I feel we feed off each other — he makes a good putt, then I make a good putt. We both played really solid. It’s fun to play with people playing well.”

Haselton finished the first day with a 73, one over par, and ended day two tied for second with

Foster and Habrorfields’ Pat Healy. In the team competition, he helped Sayville win its first county title since 2013 with an 813, ahead of Harborfields (826) and Smithtown West (831).

Port Jefferson’s Shane DeVincenzo eyes his target. Photo by Jim Ferchland

DeVincenzo, the second-place trio, Huntington’s Tyler Gerbavsits (148), Sayville’s Brendan Smith (152) and Smithtown West’s John Pawlowski (153) all qualified to compete in the state tournament, along with Connetquot’s Kyle Zere and Huntington’s Matt Giamo, who finished tied for eighth at 154. They earned the final two spots by besting Harborfields’ Andre Chi in a one-hole playoff.

Pierson’s Brooks also said he enjoyed playing alongside top competitors, saying he was fascinated seeing DeVincenzo play for the first time.

“He played great today,” Brooks said of DeVincenzo. “He was hitting every drive straight — drilling long putts. He was really dialed in.”

Even before DeVincenzo’s performance at Rock Hill, Ruoff said his athlete is the greatest player he’s ever coached.

“Without a doubt in my mind he is,” Ruoff said. “There have been some great players that we’ve had the privilege of seeing at Ward Melville, who is our closest competitor, through the years. As far as Port Jeff goes, he’s been the best player I’ve been around by far.”

Ruoff said he sees DeVincenzo finishing Top 5 in the state.

“I feel that anything can happen on a given day in a round of golf, but he’s certainly right at the top,” Ruoff said of DeVincenzo. “Every year he has slightly exceeded his high expectations, and I have high expectations for him. He just blessed with a lot of talent.”

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.

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