They’ve had that feeling before — the pit in their stomach as they watched Gator run.
This wasn’t the typical scaly, dark olive-brown reptile the Ward Melville 4×400-meter relay team was watching. It was their anchor — Allyson “Gator” Gaedje.
She was sprinting across the final stretch of the race at the New York Road Runners Millrose Games Feb. 3, maintaining her Patriots’ lead with Westhampton Beach hot on her trail.
“So many things are going through your mind, but you really can’t process anything except ‘Gator, hold on, Gator, hold on,’” said leadoff runner Sam Rutt, who on the track was with teammates Elizabeth Radke and Sam Sturgess watching Gaedje as she beat Westhampton to the finish line. “Her smiling as she crossed the finish line — it was the best feeling for all of us.”
The Patriots completed the race in 3 minutes, 57.84 seconds for Ward Melville’s first win at the Millrose Games.
“It didn’t feel real,” said Sturgess, a senior who passed the baton off to Gaedje. “We’ve been told we can do it, but seeing it happen was unreal.”
Gaedje credited visualization as a strength in her preparation to compete.
“I like to picture how I want it to go, and it helps because once you’re in the race, you don’t have a lot of time to think, but you already have that mental image in your head — It makes it easier to stay focused on the goal,” she said. “Once I got the baton I was ready to get around the track as fast as I could.”
Being in Lane 6, Rutt said she couldn’t see anyone behind her, and she wanted to keep it that way.
“I thought if no one could catch me we’d be in good shape,” the senior said.
“It takes brave individuals to dig in their heels and be patient to do things the right way, and to look ahead to the long term by believing and trusting in the process.”
— Tom Youngs
Westhampton remained hot on their tail, and after a shaky handoff to Radke, the Patriots fell to second.
“I went a little earlier than I should have,” the sophomore said. “I tried to do everything in my power to race well.”
Head coach Tom Youngs said after a sub-par fall cross country season, it’s nice to see things turn around for his team.
“It takes brave individuals to dig in their heels and be patient to do things the right way, and to look ahead to the long term by believing and trusting in the process,” Youngs said. “The effort and grit shown that Saturday was a direct result of these girls working to be the best versions of themselves each and every day. I could not be more proud of them.”
The win motivated the relay team to finish first the following day at the Suffolk County indoor championship. Gaedje also won the 600 in 1:39.67, and Rutt took first in the 1,000 in 3:07.57. It was only Rutt’s second time competing in the event.
“I was surprised,” she said of placing first. “But I was comfortable, hanging back to make sure she had enough momentum left to propel her the last few meters. It was all about me staying on top of the others girls to get as many points as I could for us to compete for a team title.”
Senior Kiera Hughes, who has been improving on her time all season, finished the 55 hurdles in 8.73, good for second in the county. Sophomore Megan Wood took seventh in the shot put with a throw of 33 feet, 8.5 inches, her personal best.
Hughes first broke the school record of 8.74, set in 2003, with an 8.63 finish. At the league championship, she broke her own record with an 8.60.
“I’m proud of the results of all my hard work thus far,” Hughes said, adding that breaking the school record, which is also the state standard, was a goal of hers. “I had wanted to set a time that I could kind of strive for. Going into each race I want to get better — just keep trying to beat myself. I’m my own best competition.”
After competing in her first state qualifier last season without the state standard, she’s more confident competing this time around, being ranked second in the county by 100th of a second.
The Patriots will compete in the state qualifier meet held at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood Feb. 12 at 5 p.m.
“I’m a very determined person,” Hughes said. “I’ve also wanted to be the best in whatever I can. I want to improve myself every single race. It’s all for the excitement and that thrill.”