Ryan Udvadia’s expression never wavered. There was no hint of concern, no panic anywhere in sight.
Running from behind is his style.
Through the first few laps of the 3,200-meter race Tuesday night at the Section XI State Qualifier at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood, the Shoreham-Wading River junior casually drifted in the back of a crowd of a dozen runners as if on an afternoon jog through the neighborhood.
“He’s got a very good kick,” said Shoreham coach Brian Wrinkle. “And he knows if he stays with the pack, he’ll be able to use that to his advantage.”
Udvadia put the “kick” on display late in the race, briefly surging into first before North Babylon senior Kris Moran hit an extra gear to win the race down the stretch. Udvadia, the top seed in the event, settled for second in 9 minute 25.94 seconds, which still earned him a trip to the state championship March 2. Moran won in 9:24.78.
A second-place finish left Udvadia disappointed, but his night wasn’t done yet. He still had the 1,600, which had always been his second event this winter after the 3,200. He came into the qualifier seeded fifth in the 1,600 and even his coaches before the start weren’t too sure if he could qualify, especially since he was the only one in the group to have already run a race.
Udvadia shocked everyone when he raced to the front of the pack in the final lap, comfortably winning down the stretch in 4:28.0.
“In a distance race you never know how it’s going to develop,” Wrinkle said. “You never know how it’s going to start and where it’s going to go. And both races just fit into his race strategy.”
Udvadia said with three laps to go in the 1,600, he could see Mike Branigan of Northport start to kick. Udvadia stayed with him, but didn’t want to push too hard yet. Going into the final lap on the straightaway, Udvadia passed him and turned it up for one all-out lap around the track.
“I got a little nervous at this point because I hear everyone cheering everyone’s name and I was slightly turning my eyes so I could see what was going on,” he said.
What he could see at the end was a first-place finish and two opportunities to run at the state championship.
“Once the state meet comes I should be able to break 4:20 and 9:10,” Udvadia said. “Those are my goals.”
Udvadia became the first Shoreham runner to qualify in two events in the indoor season since Bobby Andrews in 2009. Andrews did it in the same two events and won both.
“It’s a dream come true,” Udvadia said. “It really is.”
The pace in both events Tuesday wasn’t terribly fast at the start, which tends to happen at a big meet, Wrinkle said, where the times are less of a motivator.
“Big races become strategy,” he said. “I just think people run differently in these races.”
With 400 meters to go in the 1,600, Udvadia knew he had a chance of winning.
“I realized how close I was to Branigan and how much energy I had,” he said.
The slow pace at the start signaled to Wrinkle that Udvadia would be in it at the end.
“I knew it was going to be a kicker’s race and I was more and more confident,” he said. “He came back 15 seconds faster in the second half, which he does.”
Udvadia plans to run both events at the state meet and could have a chance to medal in both. The 3,200 will still likely be his better event.
“He never ceases to surprise me,” Wrinkle said.
While Udvadia was the only local athlete to qualify for the state meet, another Shoreham runner missed out by the narrowest of margins. In the 55-dash, junior Jordan Wright placed fourth in the finals, missing third place by one-hundredth of a second, which would have qualified him for states. The top two finishers in each event qualify, plus the third place finisher if the qualifying standard is met.
Wright ran 6.73 seconds in the finals, topping his previous best of 6.76 that he set in the preliminaries. The qualifying standard was 6.74.
“I was just hoping to get into the finals,” Wright said. “I did better than I expected to.”
Wright played basketball in the winter in previous years. But after a successful track season last spring, he opted to stick with the sport this year for both seasons.
At the start of the finals, Wright said it was “nerve-wracking.”
“I just figured I’d go all out,” he said. “This race may be my last, but I’ll try to get the best time I can possibly get.”
In the fall Wright played football, which delayed his start to the track season.
“I think with this conditioning in as he gets ready for the outdoor season, he’s going to be in great shape,” Wrinkle said.
Riverhead junior Daren Jefferson had the top finish for the Blue Waves. He jumped 40 feet 10 1/2 inches in the triple jump for sixth.
For the girls, Shoreham senior Laura Lee was the closest to qualifying. She ran 1:42.43 in the 600 to finish fifth. Mercy junior Delina Auciello was sixth in the 600 in 1:43.32.
In the 1,000 Mercy freshman Meg Tuthill was sixth in 3:14.09. Riverhead sophomore Maria Dillingham won her heat in a personal best time of 3:14.79 to finish seventh.
Shoreham freshman Kaitlyn Ohrtman was eighth in the 3,000 (10:58.14) and 13th in the 1,500 (5:11.78).