With his high school boys cross-country team largely unfamiliar with the 3.1-mile course at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays, Shoreham-Wading River Coach Bob Szymanski was more than a little concerned. He was fearful that one of his top runners might make a wrong turn in the woods somewhere along the line during the fourth annual Peconic Invitational, so he warned Evan Purdy to be careful about staying on the course. Purdy tried to ease his coach’s mind, telling him that he had walked the course before.
Then Purdy went out and proved that he knew the fastest route to the finish line.
The Shoreham-Wading River junior finished in first place as the Wildcats took five of the top eight places and won the season-opening invitational under an overcast sky on Thursday. Purdy’s time was 18 minutes 9.90 seconds. His average mile time on the hilly 3.1-mile course was 5:50.8.
“I felt great,” he said following his first win in an invitational meet since he was a freshman. “It’s a good start to the season.”
Following Purdy was teammate Jack Kelly, a sophomore who was second in 18:21.47. Dylan McAllister of Westhampton Beach was third in 18:28.46.
Purdy and Kelly worked as a team and had a sound strategy. They allowed a pair of Westhampton Beach runners to take the lead and set the pace before making their move. “Then, with about a half-mile left we started to pick it up and burned them,” said Purdy.
The Wildcats easily won the team competition with 23 points. The Westhampton Beach Hurricanes were second with 61, and the Riverhead Blue Waves were third with 81. The Mattituck Tuckers finished seventh among the eight teams with 166 points.
What made Shoreham’s team title so impressive was that it came without the team’s top two runners. Szymanski sat John Lee, who was the Suffolk County Class A champion last year, and Tyler Keys. He preferred to rest them both for the Jim Smith Invitational on Saturday at Sunken Meadow State Park.
But Purdy, a three-sport athlete who also swims and plays lacrosse, and Kelly, a converted baseball player, rose to the occasion.
“I was impressed,” Szymanski said. “I knew Evan had a chance to win it.”
Purdy, who had never run this course before, said it is now his favorite. “I like that the hills break it up a lot so it’s not just a straight-out sprint,” he said.
Anthony Galvan, a Riverhead junior, clocked a time of 18:34.40 to bring him fourth place. “For the first race of the season, I’m pretty happy,” he said.
Was his performance a sign that he will have a good season?
“I hope so,” answered Galvan.
Three of the next four finishers wore Shoreham colors — Dan Purschke (18:36.18), Keith Steinbrecher (18:49.59) and Ryan Udvadia (18:49.86). Among that mix was John McMahon of Center Moriches, who was sixth in 18:43.85.
Shoreham’s top two finishers both said they wanted to win for their coach.
“He’s an excellent coach,” Kelly said of Szymanski. “We love him.”
Two other young Shoreham runners who didn’t do badly, either, were sophomores Sean Condron (17th in 19:47.00) and Matt Leunig (18th in 19:57.12).
“It turned out to be a good day for us,” said Szymanski.
Kevin Williams of Riverhead was 10th in 18:53.32, and another Riverheader, Travis Wooten, was 15th in 19:29.35.
The top runner for Mattituck was Corey Zlatniski, who was 12th in 19:07.68, which is two minutes faster than his opening time last season. Casey Grathwohl was the next Mattituck runner to cross the finish line in 20:16.80, bringing him 22nd place.
Starting a new season on an unfamiliar course can be something of a mystery. “It’s almost like walking in blind because you don’t know what you’ll see next, and you don’t know how fast kids have gotten over the summer,” said Zlatniski.
How did he like running at Red Creek Park?
“It’s hard,” Zlatniski said. “It’s really hard. There’s like three consecutive hills that don’t look like much, but they really strain you. It’s a good thing because it’s starting to prepare me for Cardiac [Hill at Sunken Meadow State Park], and when the state race comes up, I’ll be ready.”