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Elizabeth Radke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.”