Shoreham-Wading River coach Bob Szymanski has seen just about everything during his long tenure as the boys cross country coach.
But two sub-16 minute times at Sunken Meadow State Park?
Well, that’s about a once-a-decade kind of achievement.
Shoreham junior Ryan Udvadia ran personal record time of 15 minutes 57.1 seconds Tuesday afternoon at the Section XI Division Championship. It was a superb time that landed him the top spot in Division IV by more than a minute.
Amazingly, however, it still wasn’t the best time of the day.
Northport sophomore Mike Branigan narrowly edged Udvadia for the best time by running 15:56.3. Udvadia held a slight lead on Branigan as they raced down the final straightaway before Branigan found an extra kick with about 20 meters to go.
“I got near the finish and I started to kick,” Udvadia said. “I thought I had him.”
While Udvadia was disappointed in finishing second overall, Szymanski was thrilled to see him run such a fast time, even if it meant second place.
“This is one of the great races at Sunken Meadow,” Szymanski said.
In almost any other year, Udvadia would have been a winner by a wide margin. Only three runners have ran under 16 minutes at a division meet at Sunken Meadow since 1998 before Tuesday.
In 2004 two runners both ran under 16 minutes at the division championship when Kevin Tschirhart of Northport clocked in at 15:46.6 and Ryan Sheridan of Walt Whitman followed in 15:47.0.
The championship race at Sunken Meadow features the top two teams from each league. As the runners come across, the results are divided into four divisions. So the Wildcats ended up winning Division IV for the fifth time in the last six years.
It came down to Shoreham and Bayport-Blue Point. The Phantoms had the second and third runners behind Udvadia. But the Wildcats grabbed fourth and fifth behind senior Dan Purschke (17:22.4) and sophomore Matt Gladysz (17:28.9). Senior Joe Whelan (17:39.8) and junior Keith Steinbrecher (17:55.7) rounded out the top five for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats tallied 28 points to Bayport’s 37.
Shoreham narrowly edged Bayport in the first dual meet of the season, which propelled the Wildcats to an undefeated League VII title. Bayport will again be the team that stands in the way of the Wildcats winning the Class B county title, which would allow the entire team to head to the state championship.
Szymanski said the way Shoreham beat Bayport Tuesday, “it could psyche them out,” come the county championship. Although in that race, it’ll be a different makeup.
“You won’t see all these bodies in front,” Szymanski said, noting that it’ll basically be the two teams racing against each other in what will be the Class B-C-D championship.
Szymanski said Udvadia is a great hill runner, which makes Sunken Meadow an ideal course for him with its infamous ‘cardiac’ hill.
“He’s probably the best hill runner here,” Szymanski said. “If you saw the race, you don’t see him most of the time. He’s fourth, fifth. So when he came out someone said, ‘Look, it’s Udvadia!’ And I said I told you, he’ll be there, no worse than third.”
Branigan is a standout 1,600-meter runner in track, giving him better leg speed than Udvadia.
Szymanski said the only mistake Udvadia made was giving Branigan too much room going into the cardiac hill.
“You made up 25 meters and he beat you by a second,” Szymanski told him. “If you’re 10 yards closer, you win that race.”
Riverhead senior Anthony Galvan ran a personal best time of 17:13.7 to finish in sixth place in Division II. He’ll get a chance to compete next week at the state qualifier.
Coming into the race Galvan hoped to break 17 minutes. But he was still happy to shave two seconds off his previous best.
“My last PR before this was 17:29 and then I dropped it to 17:15 a week ago,” he said. “I knew if I wanted to get into guaranteed states I’d have to do it again by 15 [seconds]. But at least I PR’d and I’m into all-league, all-county.”
Riverhead coach Patrick Burke said Galvan has been improving his time every race since his sophomore season.
“I’m really proud of him,” Burke said. “As a coach he’s everything you ever wanted. I just feel for him that he didn’t meet his goal in his mind. If you PR every single race, you can’t do more than that.”
Galvan has been a two-time captain for the Blue Waves, who went 3-2 in League IV dual meets putting them in a three-way tie for second place.
In a competitive championship race that features the top runners in the county, it can create a crowded race. Galvan said he prefers it that way.
“You always have someone to stick next to you,” he said. “Someone’s always trying to pass you. You just latch on to someone and you’ll be fine.”
Galvan started the race near several Walt Whitman runners, who he met during the summer at a camp.
“I tried to stick with them, but I know they’re a lot better than me,” he said. “So I’m like, if I lose them, I lose them. But at least I have them in sight.”
Riverhead junior Joseph Gattuso ran the next fastest time for the Blue Waves in 19:02.9. He was 21st overall in Division II.
The Shoreham-Wading River girls competed in the team championship race and freshman Kaitlyn Ohrtman posted the top time in 20:32.5 for 10th in Division III.
Four of Shoreham’s top five runners were in 10th grade or younger. Eighth-grader Ali Hays ran 21:32.3 and sophomore Maddy Kelly ran 21:59.0, which was the first time she cracked 22 minutes, Shoreham coach Paul Koretzki said.
The Wildcats had a strong league season, going 4-1 and losing only to Miller Place, the Division III champion.
Looking ahead to the state qualifier, Ohrtman will have the best chance to qualify for the state meet. The top five in each class go the states in addition to the winning team.
“She’s probably sitting fifth, sixth now in the B’s,” Koretzki said.
The Riverhead girls ran in the team qualifier race. Junior Rachel Conti posted the top time in 22:36. She was 28th overall in a race of 179 runners.
“She’s a top athlete in track and this is her first year [running cross country],” Burke said. “I told her it’s a mental game. They don’t understand that cross country is a completely different animal.”
The Blue Waves have a young team, which could be primed for big things next year, Burke said.
“We’re going to be focused next year on putting the girls team on the map,” he said. “I’ve said that before, but I really feel we finally have a commitment.”