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Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

In a showcase of athletic prowess, high school athletes from across Suffolk County displayed their skills at the annual State Qualifier track and field meet on Feb. 14. With fierce competition and a spirited atmosphere, athletes gathered at Suffolk Credit Union Arena in Brentwood to compete for a chance to advance to the state championships.

The meet saw remarkable performances from several local athletes, with many students securing qualifying positions in various events. Notable among them was a standout from Ward Melville High School, senior Brian Liebowitz, who earned the top mark in the 1600 meters with a time of 4:26.02, qualifying for the state championships on March 2. His teammate, Jon Seyfert, a junior, also earned a spot in the state championships, finishing second in the 1000 meters with a time of 2:37.74. 

The Lady Patriots displayed exceptional teamwork as they finished in second place, securing a qualifying position in the 4×800-meter relay. The quartet of junior Melina Montgomery, freshmen Julia Schmitz and Elizabeth Wright, and senior Amanda Probst ran 9:31.24. 

“We stayed confident in our abilities and ran for each other,” Probst said. “We put in so much hard work, effort and time, and it truly was an amazing feeling to finally qualify. We knew we were ready and prepared, but to actually do so is an amazing feeling.”

As the dust settles on another thrilling meet, these athletes now focus on the state championships held at Ocean Breeze Athletic Complex in Staten Island, where they will go head-to-head with the best high school athletes from across the state. 

“I’m really looking forward to states and nationals, of course, to end this winter season on a high note, but now looking forward, I am really excited for spring season to begin,” Probst said. “It’s my final season with my team before I leave high school for college, and it makes me really upset thinking about leaving them, but I’m also excited for what’s to come this season. I look forward to seeing what my team and I will achieve.”

Photo from Councilmember Kornreich's office

By Samantha Rutt

Residents gathered at the Setauket Fire Station on Main Street Feb. 5 for the Three Village Civic Association’s first meeting of the calendar year. The meeting agenda featured a presentation by local Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook). The event served as a platform for the councilmember to provide vital updates on community projects, initiatives and future plans, while eliciting engagement and feedback from attendees.

With a focus on transparency and community involvement, the meeting kicked off with an overview of ongoing and upcoming projects aimed at enhancing the quality of life for residents across Three Village. Kornreich mentioned the emergence of a “Founder’s Park” to be constructed near 25A and Gnarled Hollow Road. The park, still in its infancy planning stage, would be set on the presumed landing place of Setauket’s founders. In the park would feature a playground, to be donated by a local family currently fundraising, as well as the historic Roe Tavern, eventually to be relocated to the park’s assumed location. While still in the early stages, the park plans to serve as a place for the community to gather and celebrate its rich history.

Among the key topics discussed was the progress of various infrastructure projects, including sewer system infrastructure. The councilmember emphasized the importance of prioritizing infrastructure investments to ensure the safety and well-being of residents while fostering economic growth and development.

Kornreich explained the necessity of more wastewater infrastructure within the bounds of his district, primarily along 25A. The councilmember further clarified that the installation of sewers and their intended placement is simply theoretical at the moment.

“In theory, the purpose of the sewer study is to determine the feasibility of running a sewer line from the university all down 25A, including Stony Brook village, and connecting to the Port Jeff STP [sewage treatment plant],” he said.

The potential installation of this sewer system would enhance environmental protection for the Three Village community. 

Additionally, attendees were briefed on community related initiatives, including changes to signage displayed along the roadside, the Commercial Redevelopment District legislation, the abolition of both Town of Brookhaven’s accessory apartment and planning boards, and the Highway Department’s upgrades. 

During his presentation, Kornreich laid out the improvements to local highways sharing that the Highway Department will soon install new antique lighting along 25A over the next two years. The department also plans to combat consistent flooding seen along Dyke Road by pitching and adjusting the roadway accounting for overflow of water. 

Kornreich also mentioned the town’s Community Choice Aggregation program, helping the community to understand the realities and complexities of this program. The program’s goal is to help residents who use natural gas to save by opting for a fixed rate. Kornreich explained that all town residents were automatically opted into this program, though since the adoption the National Grid rates have come in under that of the fixed rate. 

“I realize that it’s not a good deal at the moment because the National Grid price, which fluctuates, has on average been much lower than the fixed CCA price since the inception of the CCA,” Kornreich explained. “You can opt in and out of the CCA whenever you want.”

Throughout the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to engage with the councilmember, asking questions and providing feedback on specific projects and initiatives. The interactive nature of the meeting facilitated meaningful dialogue.

As a former president of the civic association, Kornreich expressed his gratitude in connecting with residents and sharing updates on the ongoing efforts to enhance the community. He emphasized the ready availability of his office and staff, calling on residents to stay informed and actively participate in shaping the future of Three Village. 

For those unable to attend the meeting, information and updates on the community and related civic association matters can be found at www.3vcivic.org.

Rep. LaLota with Chris Pickerell of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

By Samantha Rutt

In mid-January, U.S. Rep. Nick LaLota (R-NY1) appeared in Washington before the Natural Resources Committee to address the importance of the Long Island Sound Restoration and Stewardship Act. This bipartisan act would reauthorize the Long Island Sound Program through 2028 to ensure the protection and preservation of the Sound.

“The longevity and health of the Long Island Sound is critical for Long Island and Connecticut residents,” LaLota said before the committee. “For many, the Long Island Sound and our waterways are our way of life.”

The act was initially introduced by both LaLota and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut (D-Vernon), co-chairs of the Long Island Sound Caucus, which focuses on issues relating to and impacting the Long Island Sound, including conservation, water, fishing, transportation and energy. The LISRSA will ensure the Sound remains a valuable resource for generations to come.

“As the co-chair of the Long Island Sound Caucus, I am proud to introduce the Long Island Sound Stewardship and Restoration Act. The Long Island Sound is not just a body of water, it’s a way of life for our community,” LaLota said in a 2023 statement. “This legislation underscores the vital importance of preserving this natural treasure, not only for our environment but for the thriving fishing industry that sustains Long Island’s economy. Together, we can ensure the continued health and prosperity of Long Island Sound, a resource that defines our region and sustains our livelihoods.”

This bill amends the Clean Water Act to include studies addressing environmental impacts on the Sound watershed, planning initiatives that identify areas best suited for various activities while maintaining minimal adverse environmental impacts, as well as to facilitate compatible uses, or preserve critical ecosystem services. 

In adherence with the act, representatives must also develop and implement strategies to increase education and awareness about the ecological health and water quality of the Sound and monitor the progress made toward meeting the goals, actions and schedules of the plan.

In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency must coordinate the actions of all federal departments and agencies that impact the Sound’s water quality and to improve the water quality and living resources of the watershed. 

“Pollution, overdevelopment, algae, water quality and dumping are just a few of the issues we have endured over the past several decades,” LaLota said. “The deterioration of the Sound and its natural habitats have also been an issue the Long Island Sound program has addressed, ensuring that endangered and native species can thrive in this environment.” 

A federal agency that owns or occupies property, or carries out activities, within the Sound watershed are required to participate in regional and subwatershed planning, protection and restoration activities. Additionally, such agencies will be required to ensure that the property and activities are consistent with the plan to the maximum extent practicable.

Lastly, the reauthorization of the bill will further authorize the Long Island Sound Study, the Long Island Sound Stewardship Act of 2006, the Long Island Sound Grants and Long Island Sound Stewardship Grants through fiscal year 2028.

Upon his visit to the capital, LaLota also had the opportunity to question Chris Pickerell, the director of the Marine Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County on the importance of reauthorizing the program.

Pickerell estimated “tens of thousands” of people on Long Island to be affected by the Sound and even more so from the Connecticut approach. After questioning from LaLota regarding benefits of a healthy watershed, Pickerell mentioned the several direct and indirect ways people living near the Sound would benefit from the renewal of the LISRSA.

“Recreation, commercial fishing, recreational fishing, aesthetics, boating, swimming, all those things, transportation, of course, the ferries,” Pickerell listed as some of the direct ways in which residents use the Sound.

“If the water quality was improved, that could actually impact people’s livelihoods, their jobs — whether it’s aquaculture or wild harvest of shellfish or finfish, that could increase and bring more money to those communities and to their families to put food on the table,” Pickerell added.

LaLota then proposed a situation in which the restoration program never existed, calling upon Pickerell to speculate what the Sound may look like without it.

“We wouldn’t see the milestones reached that have been achieved so far,” Pickerell said. “There have been so many projects of all different natures that are taking place that have helped to restore habitat, fisheries, recreation, education.” 

Without the LISRSA funding, Pickerell noted, “we would go in reverse. The improvements that have happened would start to wane and we wouldn’t see any advancement.”

“I hope that it’s obvious to my colleagues here in Washington that the reauthorization of the Long Island Sound Program is vital to not only Long Islanders and Connecticut, but the environment and to the entire region,” LaLota said as his time in Washington came to a close.

Photo by Samantha Rutt

By Samantha Rutt

The Three Village Historical Society was awarded a $300,000 grant, courtesy of the JumpSMART Small Business Downtown Investment Program on Monday afternoon, Dec. 18. 

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) and other local officials gathered at Gallery North to present the organization with a giant check signifying the donation.

Along with the Three Village Historical Society, the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, LI Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame and Gallery North – Setauket Historic District also received generous grants from the JumpSMART program. The donations’ funding will be used to support downtown revitalization efforts.

“The funding that we’re distributing here is about supporting our downtowns and our cultural institutions that are so important,” Bellone said. “Much of the funding comes out of the award that we received from the federal government — they really are about promoting economic sustainability over the long term, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than investing in our cultural arts and institutions like the ones here.”

By Samantha Rutt

Three Village Civic Association held its monthly meeting at the Setauket Firehouse Monday night, Dec. 4. The meeting was well attended by members of the community and featured guest speakers, New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk ) and Assemblyman Ed Flood (R-Port Jefferson).

Civic president Charles Tramontana reminded the community of next Tuesday’s fire commissioner vote. The vote will be held at Setauket Fire Department Station 3 on Nicholls Road from 2-9 p.m. Anyone who is registered to vote is eligible to participate.

Palumbo and Flood updated the body on various developments in Albany, including the state budget, recent bail reform laws, community projects and wastewater infrastructure. They also took questions from the audience.

One of the foremost issues discussed was that of last week’s Brookhaven Town Board meeting, a redevelopment plan for Jefferson Plaza in Port Jefferson Station calling for adding homes to the shopping center, built about 1959. The project is set to include 280 apartments and a retail area, including a food court, gym and other shops.

Attendees addressed concerns about the potential development, urging for a more logical and in-line suburban development plan. Carolyn Sagliocca, vice president of the Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Civic Association, attended the meeting to voice concern over the potential development. She asked for the Three Village community’s input on the matter.

“What a nightmare is happening around us,” she said. “I wanted to let everyone know that public comments are open for 30 days following the hearing.”

Monday’s civic meeting also mentioned the omission of wastewater infrastructure on recent ballots and the growing concern for a better infrastructure plan. Suffolk County Legislator-elect Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) spoke briefly on the issue.

“Sewers are a tool, they’re not the answer,” Englebright said. “If you look at what the three large sewers on the South Shore of Nassau County have created, they’ve drained the water table,” adding, “It’s a matter of, like with many things, a matter of balance.”

The meeting also included a collection of healthy canned food items for the Stony Brook Food Farmacy food pantry.

The meeting highlighted the importance of open dialogue and community engagement in addressing critical issues facing the Three Village area. The association holds monthly meetings that are open to the public. 

For more information about the Three Village Civic Association, visit its website 3vcivic.org.

Ward Melville High School’s girls soccer team are the NYSPHSAA 2023 champions, marking their second consecutive state title. Photo from Sheila Murray

By Samantha Rutt

On a chilly Sunday afternoon, Nov. 12, at Tompkins Cortland Community College, Ward Melville High School varsity girls soccer team secured a decisive 4-0 victory over Monroe-Woodbury to claim the New York State Class AAA championship and the program’s second consecutive state title.

The Lady Patriots exuded an air of unwavering confidence from the opening whistle, dominating possession and orchestrating a relentless attack that left their opponents scrambling to keep pace.

The Patriots dominance materialized into tangible results in the 13th minute when Adriana Victoriano, a junior forward, capitalized on a perfectly placed long pass from Aliya Leonard to send the ball hurtling into the back of the net, breaking the deadlock and igniting the team’s offense.

Just eight minutes later, the Patriots lead doubled, courtesy of a well-executed corner kick from team co-captain Marissa Tonic, which found the head of co-captain, Peyton Costello, who deftly guided the ball into the goal.

“We got one goal quick,” said head coach John Diehl. “And we got another one quick, just all of a sudden, the score was 2-0. We felt confident we could do well but were more surprised that we would be up by two.”

With a commanding 2-0 advantage, Ward Melville continued to press, attacking the Monroe-Woodbury defense. The Patriots efforts were rewarded again in the 33rd minute of play when Sarah Jablonsky stepped up for a penalty kick, extending the lead to 3-0.

In the final seconds of the half, Costello, a senior defender, with an assist from her sister Maddie, a junior midfielder, scored the Patriots fourth goal.

As the halftime whistle blew, the Patriots had firmly established themselves as the dominant force on the field, leaving Monroe-Woodbury reeling from their relentless onslaught. During the halftime huddle, coach Diehl reminded his players to keep their composure and confidence as they worked to close out the game in the second half.

“It’s just about composure,” he told the team. “If we stay composed and stick to the game plan, then this game is ours.”

The second half saw the Patriots continue to dictate the tempo of play, maintaining their composure and showcasing their exceptional ball-handling skills, but there were no
more goals.

As the final buzzer sounded, with the score at 4-0, the team went into a frenzy of jubilation. 

The Patriots triumph marks a momentous achievement in their illustrious soccer history, solidifying their position as a New York State girls soccer powerhouse. Their dominant display on the field and their unwavering determination throughout the championship tournament may inspire generations of future Patriots to strive for excellence.

“We try to honor, celebrate and promote these championships so the younger athletes see this and want to be a part of a winning team and a winning program.” Three Village school district athletic director Kevin Finnerty said. “But at the same time, it’s not always about the wins. It’s about being part of a great program.”

The back-to-back champs were greeted with a true homecoming celebration as their bus pulled into the parking lot late Sunday evening.

“The local fire department came out with their fire trucks, and parents and community members came at 10 o’clock to welcome the team back,” Finnerty said. “Not only were the parents there, but school administrators, teachers and younger kids came out to see these athletes in a really nice way.”

The Patriots executed another season without loss, comprising an impressive 19-0-3 record. Yet, there was a slow start with a 0-0 draw against St. Anthony’s in September.

“The biggest challenge we had at the beginning of the year was finishing our opportunities,” Tonic said. “We had so many chances and shots in the game, but we couldn’t put it in the back of the net. We overcame this by continuously practicing and putting in the extra work when needed.”

Tonic, a senior, has been a member of the varsity squad since her freshman year. She spoke about the chemistry the girls have on and off the field and its significance in the team’s achievements.

“The chemistry between all the girls on the field was a key element that contributed to our success throughout the season,” Tonic said. “Another key element was what we wanted so badly to be NYS champions two times in a row. We lost a lot of seniors last year, but we didn’t want to stop the success they brought to the team to stop this year.”

Camaraderie also proved to be a critical factor in the Ward Melville girls success, as cultivating a winning environment took time and perseverance.

“It took time to get that camaraderie, and that kept growing as we kept winning,” Diehl said. “The girls were out there supporting each other. They may not [all] be representing the team on the field, but they’re still an essential part of our program.”

“The emotions were just unreal, and having to experience the win another time was even better,” Tonic said. “It truly is an incredible feeling.”

By Samantha Rutt

Each year, the Suffolk County cross-country championships are held at Sunken Meadow State Park, where the county’s best teams toe the line. Runners race a full 5 kilometers, or 3.1 miles, around the park, winding meandering trails and climbing daunting hills.

Parents, friends and spectators alike lined the course on a sunny, brisk November afternoon. With a chorus of voices cheering, signs flaunting and cowbells ringing — a cross-country staple — a spectacle emerged as the races unfolded.

For the third straight year, the Northport Lady Tigers emerged victorious at the Suffolk County championships on Friday afternoon, Nov. 3.

Led by freshman phenom Mia Wickard, the Tigers earned 57 points over Ward Melville’s 104. Northport’s commanding win earned the team a spot at the New York State meet start line next Saturday, Nov. 11.

The Suffolk County championship meet is the state qualifier, sending the winning team and the top-five finishers — not from the first-place team, but from each class — to the statewide championship.

“Not sure if I could be prouder of this group of kids,” said Northport head coach Gregg Cantwell. “The girls’ dedication and the depth of our team was key for us on Friday.”

Wickard, Northport’s top finisher, placed third in the Class A race at 19:24.51. Rounding out the scorers were seventh graders Fiona King and Jane Tucker with juniors Kayla Forsch and Maggie Taylor, each running a personal best time.

“Our top six girls [including Cate Coronato] ran their best times on the course — a few by a lot,” Cantwell emphasized of his team’s clutch performance. “We now have six all-county ranking girls, which is the most of any boys or girls team, and I am extremely happy about that.”

Joining Northport’s Lady Tigers next week, the Cougar boys of Commack High School bested their Class A rivals, collecting only 64 points and extending their postseason journey.

“Our goal every season is to try and win a league, division and county championship,” Commack coach Paul Sleavensky said. “This is the first time in program history that we were the Section XI [Suffolk County] champions,” adding, “I’m extremely proud of their performance at the state-qualifier meet.”

The Port Jefferson Royals won the boys Class C race, tallying 19 points over Mattituck’s 62. Junior Colin Veit paced the Royals, earning the individual title, as all five of the high school’s scorers placed within the top six, marking an impressive victory for the team.

“I’m very proud of our team,” said Port Jeff’s coach Andy Cosci. “We have a nice tradition here in Port Jeff, being a very successful program over the years.”

He added, “It’s not easy to win counties, and the team has worked very hard since August to accomplish that goal.”

Smithtown West’s Douglas Antaky and Rocky Point’s Trevor Green, individual champions of Class A and Class B, respectively, will make the trip to the New York State meet. Antaky, a senior, outran his opponents, completing the course in 16:09.53. Green, only a sophomore, earned his first county cross-country title, defeating his competition while running a 16:31.01.

“My goal going into this meet was to break 17 minutes and place in the top five,” Green said. “I definitely was not expecting to win with the great competition in Class B this year.”

For runners advancing into the postseason, this week will involve preparation for the meets ahead.

“The focus for the next week and beyond is going to be that our toughest races are ahead of us and that we have a chance to do something special,” Northport’s coach Cantwell said of his team.

The NYS cross-country championship meet will be held Saturday, Nov. 11, at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School in Verona.

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File photo by Rachel Shapiro

By Samantha Rutt

The League of Women Voters hosted a Meet the Candidates forum for Smithtown Public Library trustees Tuesday evening, Oct. 3, in an event held via Zoom.

Four of the library board’s seven seats are up for grabs this election cycle. Eight candidates appeared at the event, responding to questions previously submitted by community members.

The total votes a candidate garners will determine the length of his or her term, with the two highest vote-getters to serve the standard three-year terms. The third- and fourth-place finishers will serve from Oct. 11 through Dec. 31, 2024.

The remaining two open seats are currently being served by interim appointees, Anita Dowd-Neufeld and Barbara Deal — among those campaigning again — due to the resignation of previously elected trustees. The candidates selected for these offices will serve the remainder of their terms.

Topics addressed during the event were consistent with library budget inquiries, policy on censorship and banned content, the candidate’s relationship with the library and other community centers, and misinformation included in the library’s collection.

Running for a third term, incumbent board president Brianna Baker-Stines, who held a position at a library as her first job, expressed passion for preserving the library’s place in the community.

“The library has always been a safe space for me, I hope that I can show other members of the community how it can be a safe space,” Baker-Stines said. “I want to be on the board because I want to keep the library the way it is. It’s a paragon of intellectual freedom.” 

Censorship, a topic discussed throughout the night, was met with controversy from several candidates. Candidates fostered discussion over the allowance of censorship in libraries, the costliness of New York State investigations into the issue and the importance of parental oversight in choosing children’s literature.

“Libraries provide resources, and parents can choose which resources they want,” Baker-Stines said. “Censorship is not only morally ambiguous, it’s potentially illegal. It’s costly, and it’s time-consuming for our taxpayers.”

Another topic of prominence during the forum was that of the budget. Candidate Hector Gavilla, a real estate broker, expressed concern over installing an electric car charging station in the library parking lot.

“A $550,000 budget was approved for having electric vehicle charging stations throughout the library,” Gavilla said. “$550,000, for a very small percentage of people that have electric cars, I don’t see the educational value in that and how that is something that the library should offer.”

The proposed library budget for 2024 is calculated to be $17,292,960. This budget will cover property tax, salaries and employee benefits, library materials and programs, operation and maintenance and other expenses, including a 2.27% tax levy increase.

“I am looking to help and provide services for the entire community,” Gavilla continued. “Also, to be fiscally responsible with the taxpayer dollars, they should know their money is being spent properly.”

Similarly, candidate Christopher Sarvis concentrated his comments on the library’s function as a local hub and institution of learning for Smithtown residents. He pledged to be a champion for the library and its various causes.

“I’m here to be an advocate for this library, it’s a pillar of our community,” he said. “We need to look out for the sustainability of this library to keep it the pillar that it is in this community.”

The event was live-streamed and will be available on the library’s YouTube channel until Oct. 10, Election Day. Voting will occur from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. at all four Smithtown Library District buildings.

By Samantha Rutt

Blankets, lawn chairs and picnics dressed the front lawn of Emma S. Clark Memorial Library in Setauket on Friday evening, Aug. 4, as the Three Village community staple held a free concert, featuring Grand Folk Railroad, a 1960s-’70s inspired band. 

Despite gloomy skies, the event brought families, couples, pets and passersby together. Children danced as fans clapped and sang along. 

GFR’s lead guitarist, Frank Doris, enjoyed performing for the audience saying, “When you see someone singing along, it’s a great feeling for all of us.”

The library has been hosting summer concert events for over three decades, showcasing a variety of genres such as folk, blues, rock and jazz.

“Having community events like these are important for library patrons to see that we can create a fun and relaxing environment where the community can join together on a beautiful lawn in the summer,” said Carolyn Emerson, event organizer and reference librarian at Emma Clark Library.

Having been together for nearly 14 years, GFR has played at venues across Long Island’s North Shore, including the Port Jefferson Village Center and Stony Brook’s Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame. In 2010 the band released its first CD, “True North,” a collection of forgotten favorites.

“The event was great — great turnouts, and such an incredible building,” lead singer Susan Schwartz-Christian said. She was joined by her husband, Mike Christian, who performs as the band’s drummer. The fourth band member, Gary Shoenberger, played the keyboards.

On the cool summer evening, GFR played songs such as “Summer Breeze” by Seals & Crofts. The group also played songs by another local band, Alive ‘N Kickin’. 

People gathered from all over the Long Island for the free event. “I love the bands the library hosts, they always deliver,” said Gale Putt, an East Setauket resident. 

Throughout the show, Schwartz-Christian exchanged her guitar for a banjo and demonstrated her musicianship with a perfectly pitched flute solo.

Between songs and switching instruments, bandmates cracked jokes and offered cheerful conversation to the audience. As the concert came to a close, all band members showcased their vocals together, and drummer Christian traded his sticks for an electric guitar.

Emma Clark, standing as Suffolk County’s oldest public library, has been serving the Three Village community since 1892. Comprising over 200,000 books, periodicals, audio, video and software materials, the library’s collection continues to expand, finding new ways to serve the community. 

The library has recently undergone its latest construction project, including an outdoor terrace and a cafe, adding nearly 800 square feet to the historic building. 

“The summer evening concerts have brought together more than 200 community members [per concert] each year,” Emerson said, adding that she hopes to continue holding summer concerts in the future. 

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.”