Down the final few laps around the track at Cornell University in Ithaca, the Shoreham-Wading River coaches could see Danielle Opatovsky losing form in the race walk ever so slightly. An official issued her one warning, meaning another would lead to a disqualification.
In the 1,500-meter race walk, the threat of disqualification always looms for each athlete. With Opatovsky holding a comfortable lead at Saturday’s state championship meet, the Shoreham senior didn’t have to worry about slowing down just enough to insure she maintained proper form.
She glided across the finish line without incident in 6 minutes, 51.59 seconds to win the federation and state public school championships. Opatovsky nearly equaled her time from last week’s meet at St. Anthony’s where she ran 6:51.41, giving her the fastest time in the nation this year in the race walk.
Opatovsky entered the state meet as the top seed and she beat out the next fastest walker by nearly 10 seconds.
Her race at the St. Anthony’s meet was the first time she cracked 7 minutes in the race walk, providing a perfect springboard into the state meet, where she was to go up against a runner who had clocked a 6:53 earlier this season. Senior Crosby Tillman of Somers couldn’t duplicate her under-7 time as she settled for second place in 7:01.08. Tillman had the fastest time in the nation before Opatovsky topped it last week.
Shoreham coach Roger Sullivan said Tillman took an early lead in the race.
“Danielle passed her in something like the second lap and she had maybe a 20-yard lead at that point,” he said. “And she just kept it the whole way.”
The state record in the race walk belongs to Lisa Kutzing of Port Jefferson, who posted a time of 6:28.2 in 1998.
“[Danielle's] getting stronger,” Sullivan said. “She’s hoping to be able to run the 1,500 and not just walk. She wants to do that for college.”
The Shoreham girls had one other runner make the state finals and junior Shannon McDonnell posted a time of 1:36.22 in the 600 to finish second among public school runners and fourth in the federation. It was the best time of the year for McDonnell, who won the third heat and then waited to see where her time stacked up against the final group of runners.
“The other girls that were in there with her their times were pretty comparable,” Sullivan said. “We told her you just have to go out and run and win your race. And she did. She took the lead and went out around where she normally does at about 61 seconds for a 400.”
McDonnell held about a five-yard lead when a girl came up on her shoulder with about 100 meters to go, Sullivan said.
“She just fought her off and won the race,” he said.
It was the second medal for McDonnell in a state meet after running on the medley relay team last year. Sullivan said the goal for McDonnell coming into this year’s state meet was to earn another medal.
The top time in the state went to Claudia Francis of Benjamin Cardozo. She ran 1:30.97 to win the federation title.
Both Opatovsky and McDonnell will compete at this weekend’s New Balance Indoor Nationals at the Armory in New York. It’ll be a slight adjustment for both, as the distances for each of their races changes from what they’ve normally been running. For Opatovsky the race walk will be one mile, a slightly longer distance than the 1,500-meter race. And McDonnell will run the 800 in place of the 600.
McDonnell will run Friday and Opatovsky will compete Saturday.
On the boys side the Wildcats had three athletes reach the state meet. Senior Erik Anderson earned a medal by finishing sixth among public schools in the high jump, although he didn’t have his best day. He cleared 6 feet on his first attempt but couldn’t make it over 6-02, a height he had cleared plenty in the past. He still finished seventh overall in the federation. The top height cleared was 6-08.
In the pole vault senior Ben Canellys cleared 13 feet to finish ninth overall in the federation and seventh among public schools.
Senior Kevin Sanders ran the 600 and finished 17th overall in 1:25.8.