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Track and Field

Longtime Shoreham-Wading River High School cross country and track and field coaches Bob Syzmanski and Paul Koretzki were named state coaches of the year. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

Bob Szymanski and Paul Koretzki are used to winning together. With a combined 72 years and more than 100 seasons as cross-country, winter track and spring track and field coaches at Shoreham-Wading River High School, the dynamic duo has steered four decades of Wildcats toward victories and scholarships, and put the district on the map with a consistent winning record.

It’s no surprise the two veteran coaches — Szymanski, 70, the boys cross-country coach and Koretzki, 77, the girls cross-country coach — were recently recognized as coaches of the year by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. While they take different approaches to the job, with Koretzki as a hard-nosed, numbers-based wiz and Szymanski cracking jokes and belting out Bobby Darin songs during practice, the pair work best together.

Bob Syzmanski. Photo from Shoreham-Wading River school district

“I like to call them Abbott and Costello,” said Mark Passamonte, the school’s athletic director, during the district’s Sept. 12 board of education meeting. The coaches were recognized by board members for their accolade, which measured their number of years coaching, career records and status as positive role models within the school and community. They are now eligible for national coach of the year awards.

“I’ve worked with both of these gentlemen for the last four years and they are outstanding,” Passamonte said. “They bring such wisdom and great humor to the cross-country program.”

Koretzki and Szymanski joined forces this past winter and spring as head coach and assistant coach, respectively, and, as a result, the girls 4×1-mile relay team took home the national title for both seasons. The boys fall team, so far, under Szymanski’s leadership, boasts a 5-0 record, triumphant against Sayville and Mount Sinai at recent meets.

Koretzki started coaching girls cross-country at the school in 1980 and suggested to the district it hire Szymanski, who had coached in the Center Moriches and Amityville schools, a year later when a job opened for the boys team. The two have not had a single argument since they met in the 1970s.

“The only thing I have against Bobby is he beat me in a race once in 1976,” Koretzki joked at the podium before thanking the board. “It’s a very nice honor and not the kind of thing we expected.”

During an interview, Szymanski said of his career alongside Koretzki, “We’re meant to do this job together for some reason. We work so well, he and I. He can cover me and I can cover for him. Paul is one of the most organized guys, he’s tremendous.”

“If you make practice tougher than meets, then they’re not afraid when it comes to competing.”

— Bob Syzmanski

In terms of their coaching strategies, the pair said not much has changed over the years.

Szymanski, who broke running records in high school and was cross-country captain at what is now Emporia State University in Kansas, pointed to techniques he learned from his own coaches, including middle-distance legend John Camien, as his foundation. Among his go-to workouts is one that “breaks the pain barrier.”

“Running is 50 percent physical and 50 percent mental,” he said. “When you run, and you feel discomfort, that’s when some people quit. You have to make the kids break that pain barrier in practice. If you make practice tougher than meets, then they’re not afraid when it comes to
competing at meets.”

He speaks highly of his runners, and said the best members on the team are often those who join merely to get in shape for other sports like lacrosse and football. Many of them end up with college scholarships, such as Bobby Andrews, a baseball player who joined the team in his freshman year in 2006 and was captain by senior year. He got a full ride to North Carolina State University, for which he has Szymanski to thank.

Paul Koretzki. File photo

“Without him, I never would have ran,” Andrews said. “He’s a great motivator. There’s something about him that just makes you want to perform your best. I had a great group of teammates around and we all felt the same way about him.”

Andrews and his teammates were also one of many packs of high schoolers over the years who have been introduced to the sounds of Bobby Darin through the coach, who considers himself a lifelong fanatic of the “Beyond the Sea” singer.

“In my lifetime, I must’ve given away over 50 Bobby Darin CD’s as I buy them as gifts for people,” Szymanski said with glee. He saw Darin in concert numerous times, has his fair share of signed albums and was even featured in a Biography Channel special on the singer. “When I’m in my car, going to school or a meet, I’m listening to Darin.”

Spending most of his career teaching math, in the Brentwood school district and at Suffolk County Community College, Koretzki didn’t start running until he was 33, encouraged by a friend of his who ran in a marathon.

“What I love most about the job are the kids,” Koretzki said. “Especially the ones who really dedicate themselves and see great improvement. Just seeing their faces or when they give a thumbs up after a race, that’s really nice.”

“What I love most about the job are the kids. Especially the ones who dedicate themselves.”

— Paul Koretzki

As a coach, he said he’s been running the same drills for 38 years. He’s been described as “very direct” and not one to sugarcoat a bad performance, as a way to help his runners better themselves. Alexandra Hays, an All-American who was among the national champions this past winter and spring, and currently runs at Columbia University, said she was able to achieve so much because of his tutelage.

She said her coach “pushed us to strive to exceed his expectations,” recalling a particular interaction after the team won the 4×1-mile in the nationals.

“He came up to me and told me how proud he was of us and he knew we would be able to pull off what we had because of how hard we’d worked in our practices,” said Hays, considering it his most meaningful post-race talk because it was her last. “He doesn’t give meaningless compliments or false reassurance, so to hear this after five years running for him was the best way to end my high school career.”

While Szymanski said he would like to retire after 50 years as a public high school coach, with 48 under his belt at this point, Koretzki doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

“I have nothing else to do,” Koretzki said with a laugh. “I’m not interested in soap operas so I might as well keep going.”

Mikey Brannigan proudly displays the United States Flag as he races down the London track during the 2017 World Para Athletes Championships. File photo

By Desirée Keegan

Mikey Brannigan didn’t roam the halls of Northport High School, he ran down them. He’d dash through the doors as others raced behind him, saying “catch me if you can.”

“Stop that kid,” Brannigan said they would shout, laughing.

Mikey Brannigan received a proclamation from New York State Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci. Photo from Assemblyman Lupinacci’s office

Brannigan battled his way to a successful high school career, and beyond after graduating in 2015. The runner is continuing to exceed expectations — being the only Paralympic athlete in history to hold simultaneous records in the 1,500-, one-mile, 3,000- and 5,000-meter events. He brought home two gold medals — in the 1,500 and 800 — and silver in the 5,000 at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships at the end of last month.

“Make no mistake about it Mikey wants to be the best,” his New York Athletic Club coach of two years, Sonja Robinson said. “His drive — it shines out. You see it. He loves running.”

Brannigan was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old, and began running at 8. Fast-forward 11 years, when as a 19-year-old he became the first individual with autism to win a gold medal in the 1,500. He also became the first athlete with a T-20 Paralympic classification to shatter the 4-minute mile threshold in August 2016 with a 3 minute, 57 second finish at the Sir Walter Miler meet in Raleigh, North Carolina. A month later, he competed in the Special Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he took home the gold after a dominating 3:51 in the 1,5000.

Mikey Brannigan, at center, is surrounded by politicians and coaches as he shows off his new proclamations and gold and silver medals. Photo from Assemblyman Lupinacci’s office

Now at 20, he’s training to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.

“I’m taking it little by little and want to show everyone that if you take even little steps you can achieve your dreams,” Brannigan said. “Look at all you can achieve. Work hard and you can achieve your dreams. You can achieve anything.”

Brannigan was honored by local government officials at Northport High School Aug. 9, receiving accolades for his accomplishments, while the members also dubbed Aug. 9 Mikey Brannigan Day in New York.

“He’s truly our hometown hero,” state assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R-Huntington Station) said. “Mikey’s story is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished at his age is unheard of. His achievements are a true testament of his hard work, dedication, perseverance, sweat and tears.”

State Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), whose kids graduated from and played sports in Northport, said he was in awe, and pointed to the back of the room — the local kids that were in attendance at the press conference — as the “cool” part of the event.

“He’s truly our hometown hero. Mikey’s story is nothing short of amazing. What he has accomplished at his age is unheard of.”

—Chad Lupinacci

“What we do when we go to Albany is we brag,” he said, putting his hands on Brannigan’s shoulders. “We tell everyone how cool our districts are, we tell everyone about the Northport school district, and we’re very proud of where we live and where we represent. There’s nothing, in my opinion, nothing better than dealing with young adults, no matter what they may be doing, because they’re the future.”

Brannigan grinned as he was invited to Albany in January to be recognized by the entire state legislature. State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) also presented him with a proclamation.

“We’re going to bring you up to Albany, but the bad news is, you have to run there and it’s 200 miles,” Flanagan joked.

“That’s a long, cold trip,” Brannigan responded, waiving his arms no.

Flanagan said he was humbled and proud to be in Brannigan’s presence.

“These are the stories people should know about and want to hear about,” he said. “I went from a stage where I used to run, then I jogged and now I walk. On my best day, I couldn’t even come close to the accomplishments of this young man, who really is a role model.”

State Assemblyman Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) agreed the barriers Brannigan has broken are unbelievable feats.

Mikey Brannigan smiles as he shakes New York State Assemblyman Andrew Raia’s hand during a press conference at Northport High School. Photo from Facebook

“Every day you turn on the television and something bad is happening,” he said. “I want to turn on the television to see this young man. It’s a big responsibility to carry, but in just the few moments I’ve had to talk with him, I know he’s up to the challenge.”

Raia proceeded to tell Brannigan he was going to embarrass him, to which he responded: “Do it.”

The assemblyman pointed out the runner’s red, white and blue Sperry top-siders, and said he needed to find out where he got them.

“He’s such a proud American,” Raia said, to which Brannigan smiled and shook his hand. “We wish nothing but the best. Keep running, my friend.”

Lupinacci shared a similar sentiment during the conference that was broadcasted on Facebook live and viewed by nearly 3,000 people.

“Your family and friends and all of us here today are proud of you,” he said as he gave Brannigan a hug. “Younger generations will follow in your footsteps. You’re not only our hometown hero, you’re an inspiration to all New Yorkers and all Americans. You’re an inspiration to people around the world.”

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.”

Kings Park shot putter grabs gold medal at indoor state track and field meet

Kings Park shot putter Danny Byrne stands atop the podium after placing first at the indoor state track and field championship. Photo from Danny Byrne

By Desireé Keegan

A local shot putter went to Albany in search of redemption, and he returned home with the ultimate hardware.

Kings Park shot putter Danny Byrne’s toughest opponent, Jack Zimmerman of Briarcliff, hadn’t thrown as well as expected, which lifted a weight off his shoulders and allowed him to just relax, and let it fly. Byrne’s 58-feet, 10.25-inch toss, a new personal best, won him gold at the state indoor track and field championships at Ocean Breeze Athletic Conference in Staten Island March 4.

Kings Park’s Danny Byrne hurls the shot put. Photo from Danny Byrne

“It was a surreal feeling — I dreamed about being a state champion,” Byrne said. “Right after the competition reality set in, and I started to cry. It was an emotional experience.”

The Long Island and Suffolk County indoor champ had won both meets during the spring of last year but didn’t perform the way he’d hoped when he made the trip upstate.

“It wasn’t what I wanted,” he said. “I didn’t prepare correctly for that meet last year, and now, I feel I definitely had revenge on the state championship. That spring performance definitely motivated me to work really hard to achieve what I achieved this season.”

Second-year head coach John Luis Damaskos said Byrne has been progressing since he took over the indoor team. He first had the chance to see his athlete compete when he attended a Kings Park football game, and said when he met Byrne on the track, he could already tell the type of competitor he was dealing with.

“He had a good mentality for training hard, and he was focused,” Damaskos said. “To see him train as competitively as he does but still be such a good, nice guy, it’s something a coach really looks for in an athlete.”

Assistant coach Rob Gelling said Byrne’s focus is what took him to the next level.

“I saw an intensity in his eyes for accepting nothing but first place,” he said. “I could see it when he was weight training, I could see it when he was doing drills, and I could see it in his desire to throw every day in practice.”

Byrne also took full advantage of a premiere throwing coach in Shoreham-Wading River’s Bill Heine and credits the football program for helping him add a few feet to his throw.

“It was without question one of the most emotional moments in my whole athletic career — from player to coach. Danny was overwhelmed. There were tears, there were hugs, and there were high-fives and fist pounds…”

—Rob Gelling

“I definitely did a very good weight-training program this year, and I credit the Kings Park football program for teaching me everything I know about lifting,” he said. “As for my technique in the circle, Bill Heine is the reason why I am where I am. His knowledge of track and field, and shot put specifically — I owe him a lot. It all came together and to reach my personal best, it made me feel really good to see all my hard work over the last four years pay off.”

His coaches were also moved by his state championship-winning moment. Damaskos said it was a long time coming.

“It was heartwarming,” he said. “He’s always trying to do more, and it was something he was really proud of — we were all really proud of. Being an elite thrower, he helps out the younger throwers on the team, and he has a great rapport with other throwers on the Island, so to see him be cheered on the way he was and reach this level of achievement, it was something special.”

Gelling echoed the head coach’s sentiment, adding that because he’s retiring, he feels lucky to have had coached a state champion in his final year with the team.

“It was without question one of the most emotional moments in my whole athletic career — from player to coach,” he said. “Danny was overwhelmed. There were tears, there were hugs, and there were high-fives and fist pounds from all the coaches who know him well from Section XI. His parents were ecstatic. He’s a pleasure to work with and I learned a lot from him.”

As Byrne looks ahead, the five-time All-Division, four-time All-County and three-time All-State selection has his sights set on the spring season.

“I’m looking forward to working hard, continuing to improve what I do and I think the sky’s the limit,” he said. “Whatever you put in, you get out, and I’m looking to defend this state title in the spring.”

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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Mount Sinai’s boys’ indoor track and field team after winning the League V title.

By Desirée Keegan

To say a Mount Sinai senior sprinter overcame adversity to help his Mustangs capture a league title would be a colossal understatement.

Just days before the League V championship, Andrew Fiore tore his hip flexor.

The Mount Sinai track and field athlete was sidelined for several days and left his coaches thinking he’d be unable to compete. Come Jan. 22, the day of the competition, Fiore told his coaches he had to run.

“I knew it was a big deal for the whole team, and I didn’t want to let anybody down,” the runner said. “I wanted to help in any way I could, and the best way to do that was to compete.”

Despite the injury, the senior had the best showing of his six-year varsity career. For the first time since joining the team in seventh grade, he broke not one school record but two.

Matthew LaGatta, Andrew Fiore and Anthony Bosio show off their hardware.

Fiore placed first in the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.84 seconds, edging out a 10-year record of 6.87. Soon after, he ran the first leg of the 4×200 relay that took first with a time of 1 minute, 37.79 seconds. The mark also eclipsed another school record that stood for more than a decade.

“To me, it really spoke of his character that regardless of being hurt, there was no way he wasn’t going to run — for himself, for me, for the team,” Mount Sinai head coach Lee Markowitz said. “He’s always been our go-to guy. He’s a team player and he’s a tough kid. He refused to not run. I was blown away.”

Fiore also finished second in the long jump with a leap of 20 feet, 3 inches. His performances helped put his team in a position to win, and the Mustangs took home Mount Sinai’s first indoor League V title in 12 years. Although he did not think about breaking records, he admitted it was an added bonus.

“It’s unreal — seeing my name in the record book is weird, but it’s awesome,” he said. “We were coming into the meet expecting to score points, but we did not expect to score as many as we did, and we even scored points in events that we didn’t expect to place in.”

Fiore’s senior teammates Anthony Bosio, Nick Cesario and Kevin Kelly helped break the 4×200 record. Cesario and Kelly also placed in the top four in the 55-meter dash. Kelly finished second in 6.96 and Cesario took fourth in 6.98.

“We’ve been a young team for a few years, so this season was interesting because we finally had a good core of seniors who really led by example,” Markowitz said. “The interesting thing is that at the league championship meet, every single player stepped up and had their personal best performances of the season. It all came together.”

The head coach highlighted sophomore Kenneth Wei, who took home the only other first-place finish for the team, finishing the 55 hurdles in 8.31.

The interesting thing is that at the league championship meet, every single player stepped up and had their personal best performances of the season. It all came together.”

—Lee Markowitz

“He is a very talented high hurdler and is also a gifted high jumper,” Markowitz said. “He really stepped it up with his effort.”

Mount Sinai, which finished with 105 points, almost doubled second-place Southampton’s score of 56.

Markowitz said although Mount Sinai never goes into the meet expecting to be a contender, he and his assistant coach Eric Giorlando, who he said the team would not have won the title without, realized the Mustangs had depth unlike they’d seen in past years.

Markowitz shared his pre-meet message to the team.

“These guys worked very hard, and some of them have been working for it for years,” he said. “I told them before the meet in my pregame speech that if we win, and no guarantees, I hope that a win would teach them that hard work pays off. And it certainly did. As their coach, it makes me so incredibly proud to see them come together, give their hearts, give it everything they had and come out on top.”

Fiore said although the magnitude of what occurred during the meet did not hit him until receiving praise the next day at school, he’s glad he made the decision to compete.

“It was a little nerve-racking coming in injured, and we want to make sure everyone remains healthy because we’re looking to win a league title in spring, too, but it was definitely worth it,” he said. “We all relied on each other to win, and my coaches have been so supportive. This sport helps you in other ways than simply athletics, and it’s made me a better person. This experience has meant a lot to me.”

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Shot put throwers Andy Suarez and Billy Grosse finished second and third, respectively, at a meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Jan. 29, both tossing over 50 feet. Photos by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Comsewogue has never had a thrower capable of hurling a shot put over 50 feet, that is, until this winter boys’ track and field season. In fact, there are two Warriors —Andy Suarez and Billy Grosse — who have been breaking the school record meet after meet this year, and Jan. 29 was no different.

Reno Molina finished third in the 55-meter dash with a time of 6.87 seconds. Photo by Bill Landon

The seniors placed second and third at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood. Grosse had set a new school record with his toss of 50 feet, 11 inches, but it was short lived. Suarez sent his first shot put 50 feet, 8 inches, but came up moments after Grosse, and set a new record with his second toss of 50 feet, 11.25 inches.

After the last meet before the Suffolk County finals, the two remain ranked in the Top 15 throwers in the state.. Both will have their work cut out for them come then, because Kings Park’s Dan Byrne ruled the day with a toss that measured 56 feet, 9 inches.

“If I’m not throwing as well as I know I can, I’ll go off to the side and practice my form,” Suarez said. “I listen to what my coach is saying because I can’t look at myself, but he watches very closely.”

Comsewogue head coach Brad Posnanski said he knew the duo had the potential to throw as well as they have been, and said all season long the two have only pushed each other to work harder.

“Last year Billy Grosse threw 48 feet, 10 inches, and Andy Suarez had thrown 47 feet,” he recalled. “Earlier this season they both got better and better. Andy was the first to throw 50 feet, and then Billy threw 50 feet and we’ve never had that. They’re both great friends so to have two throwers over 50 feet is something pretty special.”

Travis Colon finished the 55-meter hurdles in 8.55 seconds for sixth place. Photo by Bill Landon

The meet, titled “Last Chance,” was an opportunity for the athletes to better their performance to gain a higher seed before the county championship, and other Warriors also made their presence known.

Coming back from a minor injury, sophomore Reno Molina clocked in a 6.87 seconds in the 55-meter dash to finish third behind Miller Place senior Bick Niemcyzk (6.85) and East Islip senior Andrew Moschetto (6.83). Sophomore Travis Colon took advantage of that opportunity, placing sixth overall in the 55 hurdles with a time of 8.55. He’s already an All-League competitor after placing sixth in the League IV championship last year.

“Reno Molina is a pleasant surprise,” Posnanski said. “Where he is in the county speed-wise, and he has the best chance to make a statement in the counties next week. My hurdler [Travis Colon] has made tremendous improvements with his technique with hard work and just sticking with it.”

Posnanski said he has been impressed with his younger runners on the team, who’ve bettered their times all season long.

“I have such a young team, so I didn’t have any expectations,” the coach said.

But Matt Krieg, who placed ninth in the 1,000 in 2:56.55, caught his eye.

Matt Krieg finished ninth in the 1,000-meter in 2:56.55. Photo by Bill Landon

“He’s tough when he runs and he’s a competitor,” the head coach said of his Warrior. “He won the freshman championship meet this year.”

Sophomore Brandon Bailey clocked in at 1:39.96 in the 600, for 22nd overall.

The county championships are will be Feb. 4 at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood at 10 a.m.

Grosse said he and his teammate will be ready.

“It’s all about repetition — we’ll get as many throws in as possible, lift some weights and then rest a day or two before the counties,” he said. “Andy was running and only began throwing this season, and having him around has been more important than anything, because without him, I wouldn’t be pushing myself the way I am.”

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Senior Hannah Hobbes, junior Samantha Rutt and senior Madison Hobbes, Hannah's twin sister, were the Top 3 finishers in the 600-meter race at a crossover meet at Suffolk County Community College's Brentwood campus Dec. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The Ward Melville girls’ track and field team stretched its legs at a crossover meet Dec. 11 at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus, and distance delivered.

Patriots combine for a mix of talented youth and experienced veterans this season, and Ward Melville head coach Tom Youngs said despite clearing off the cobwebs, the girls put up solid performances.

Freshman Allison D'Angio jumps for Ward Melville at a crossover meet at Suffolk County Community College's Brentwood campus Dec. 11. Photo by Bill Landon
Freshman Allison D’Angio jumps for Ward Melville at a crossover meet at Suffolk County Community College’s Brentwood campus Dec. 11. Photo by Bill Landon

“This year we’re talented, and we have depth in the middle distance events,” he said, referencing strong finishes in the 600-, 1,000-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races.

In the 3,000, the Patriots had three Top 5 finishers in juniors Christina O’Brien and Amanda Dagnelli, and sophomore Allison Nemesure. O’Brien finished second in 12 minutes, 52.09 seconds, Dagnelli in fourth in 12:55.80 and Nemesure in fifth with a time of 12:14.70.

Showing both talent and bloom was freshman Elizabeth Radke who took first in the 1,500 with a time of 5:07.84 seconds.

Sophomores Kate Cochran, Shannon Ryan and Sina Maase finished fourth, sixth and seventh respectively, in 5:12.39, 5:21.39 and 5:23.52.

Juniors Samantha Sturgess and Allyson Gaedje crossed the finish line in a near tie for first place in the 1,000, but a review revealed Sturgess won by a nose, clocking in at 3:14.52 while Gaedje tripped the gun at 3:14.56.

Ward Melville’s middle distance runners continued to impress, as the Patriots swept the top three spots in the 600, which was another photo finish. Senior Hannah Hobbes stopped the clock at 1:45.66 for first place, junior Samantha Rutt came in second at 1:45.80 and Hannah’s twin sister Madison placed third with a time of 1:46.49. Senior Megan Raferty wasn’t far behind, finishing in 1:49.52 for fifth place.

Youngs said he also has a strong 4×400 relay team.

“We competed last year at the Millrose Games where we finished second with a time of 4:00.99,” he said, adding that the time qualified for his team to compete in the outdoor state championship, where it set a new school record.

Senior Marina Vostrova sprints, races in the hurdles and competes in the high jump. Photo by Bill Landon
Senior Marina Vostrova sprints, races in the hurdles and competes in the high jump. Photo by Bill Landon

On Sunday, the quartet finished third in 4:35.19.

The 55-meter hurdles fielded eight waves of six, and it was senior Marina Vostrova who claimed the top spot in 9.38 seconds.

Another freshman who made her presence known was Allison D’Angio. She cleared 4-feet, 8-inches in the high jump to earn second place, and claimed the same position in the long jump with a leap of 15-feet, 10.25 inches. Both performances were new personal bests.

“I thought I did pretty well,” D’Angio said. “I’ll be doing a lot of drills with [assistant] coach J.P. Dion, so I’ll look to do better next week.”

While Youngs said his team struggles in field events, he noted the Patriots are missing a top thrower he hopes to have back net week. He said he’s proud of the work being done on the track though, and believes he will only continue to see improvement.

“We had a good day,” he said. “We worked on a few things, we improved upon a couple of things from last week … the race is in their legs and as [we progress] the times will come.”

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On your mark, get set … Wait! I know we’ve never seen an Olympic sprinter or swimmer take off his goggles, stand up from the starter’s block, scratch his chin, shrug his shoulders and walk away. After all, these athletes have spent years preparing for races that sometimes last less time than it takes us to order lunch.

Like it or not, most of us are in races of all kinds. Some of them are positive and can even be necessary, while others may not be as productive. We race against the bully in the playground to prove that we can cross the lawn faster than he can, we race against the car at the other end of the parking lot so we can get the closest spot — and we race to our seats in a movie theater so we don’t miss the previews.

Some of these races clearly offer us an incentive to improve our lives, the lives of those around us or just to make us feel better. Beating the fastest kid on the block may not be something we put on our resumé, but it can give us confidence in other arenas.

Races can be inspirational. Watch any Olympic Games and every media outlet is in search of an incredible story. Witness Wilma Rudolph. She had polio when she was 4, which caused her to have infantile paralysis. Through her recovery, she wore a brace on her leg until she was 9. She went on to become an Olympic track star in 1956 and 1960.

Races can also encourage people to climb out of bed each morning, recognizing the urgency to do important work. Scientists, for example, frequently describe the race to cure cancer and to provide relief from other diseases that destroy our friends and relatives quickly, or slowly take them away from us. The scientific researchers know, without looking at a clock, that people are suffering day and night with limited treatment, which also motivates them to work late at night or through weekends.

Rescue workers, including the police, firefighters and the Coast Guard, race into storms or treacherous conditions to help people. Seconds can mean the difference between life and death.

With everyone racing to something every day, it’s easy to see how some of those races, particularly the ones with little at stake, seem more like a battle of wills than a race. Do I need to race to the shortest line in the supermarket before that other person, with the same intent look in his eyes? What happens if I lose that race? Am I stuck in this other line for an extra 20 seconds or, gasp, even a minute or more?

When we’re driving, we recognize that an ambulance racing past requires us to get out of the way. That’s not only the law, but it’s also the way we help our society function. When confronted with someone in a spectacular hurry, it’s possible and even likely that the person may be racing against or toward something we can’t see or understand.

And then there are the times when we are racing out to do something that may not, on second thought, be important or even all that helpful. Yes, movement might be positive and, yes, we might benefit from cutting down the time to accomplish something, but might we have found a shorter route or even a different path without all that running around?

If we see our lives as a series of races, maybe we can pick the ones we truly want to run, while also recognizing that we can define a successful race for ourselves.

Many years ago, I attended a press conference before the New York City Marathon. One of the reporters asked a Kenyan athlete, who was likely to finish in the top 10, about winning. The runner, whose pace per mile for more than 26 miles is faster than most people can sprint for a single mile, took his time to answer.

“To finish the race is to win the race,” he said grinning, taking much more time between words than he would between strides the next day.

Infinite Tucker grabs gold in 400 hurdles and relay

The Blue Devils relay team stands atop the podium. Photo from Huntington athletics
The Blue Devils relay team stands atop the podium. Photo from Huntington athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Huntington’s 4×400-meter relay team had a target on its back all season.

After being indoor national champions in the winter, and then garnering league, division and state titles, the pressure was on once the squad stepped out onto the national stage last weekend.

The boys may have been nervous — especially after finding out they weren’t the No. 1 seed — but head coach Ron Wilson gave them words of encouragement, and once they lined up to compete, he could tell by their faces that they meant business.

‘We all sat together before the race and talked about how it’s our last hurrah and we all wanted to do it for [Infinite Tucker] because it was his last time running with us.’ —Kyree Johnson

“I could see that they had the same facial expressions they had at the state championship, the same facial expressions at the national championship back in March,” he said. “There is a certain look they each have where they don’t really communicate with one another, but get mentally ready to compete. Can we dominate? That was the big question that we asked ourselves — and we did.”

The Blue Devils’ fantastic four won in 3 minutes, 10.93 seconds, at the New Balance Nationals Outdoor championship at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro Sunday night, setting a New York State record, knocking down the previous one which had stood for 50 years. The team also garnered the fastest time in the United States for 2016 in the event, and broke the national record of 3:11.6 set in 1966. The time easily eclipsed the school and county marks.

Infinite Tucker crosses the finish line first in the 400 intermediate hurdles. Photo from Huntington athletics
Infinite Tucker crosses the finish line first in the 400 intermediate hurdles. Photo from Huntington athletics

The finish ended a long campaign exactly the way the athletes wanted it to. And the boys especially wanted to do it for senior Infinite Tucker, who garnered a national medal in the 400 intermediate hurdles just an hour and a half before competing with his team.

“We all sat together before the race and talked about how it’s our last hurrah and we all wanted to do it for him because it was his last time running with us, and running for high school,” junior Kyree Johnson said. “We all just stepped it up a little bit, tried our hardest and that was exactly what everybody did.”

Junior Lawrence Leake, as per a suggestion from assistant coach Eli Acosta, was switched to the first leg of the race, moving junior Shane McGuire to the second. Leake admits he was nervous, but said the coaches helped him get mentally ready to compete.

“They always have a positive attitude, give words of encouragement before races, and always reassure me that I’m capable of whatever I put my mind to,” he said.

Wilson told Leake and McGuire that if the boys each finished in 48 seconds, the title could be theirs for the taking.

Leake didn’t break out of the box that well, taking a bad step off the block, but quickly regained his stride and finished the first 200 in 23 seconds, which was right on track. After finishing the second 200 in 25 seconds, he passed the baton to McGuire, who said he went to the line super nervous, but didn’t want to let his teammates down.

“When I got the baton, I went out quick,” he said. “I ran 23 in the first 200 and I was still kind of in the back, so when we hit the last straight away I saw the other teams died out and I sprinted as hard as I could to give it to Kyree.”

Wilson said once the two legs finished in their target times, with both boys earning new personal bests, he knew the race was won.

The Huntington 4x400-meter relay team walks off the track national champions. Photo from Huntington athletics
The Huntington 4×400-meter relay team walks off the track national champions. Photo from Huntington athletics

“I already knew it was over,” he said. “Kyree and Infinite are not going to let anyone deny them the top spot on the podium.”

Johnson also knew the national championship was only seconds out of reach.

“When I saw Lawrence run a really good leg and I saw Shane picking it up, I had a feeling that we were going to take it,” he said. “I was relieved. When I got the baton I just gave it my all. Just to go down there with all my friends and being able to compete with the people that I’m very close with was a great experience. Everything we accomplish together will stay with us forever. It’s not like a season thing. We have a friendship that has turned into a brotherhood.”

And that brotherhood is what helped them pull it out, as the team topped their best record by five seconds.

“We wanted to make the last time we all ran together special,” McGuire said.

And they did.

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