Bob Szymanski, the Shoreham-Wading River boys cross country coach, was talking to a reporter about his team’s star runner, Ryan Udvadia, when he suddenly interrupted himself. “You know how to spell Udvadia, right?” he asked the scribe.
It didn’t sound as if Szymanski was joking, but he could have been. Udvadia’s exploits in cross country as well as track and field have made headlines.
In cross country last fall, Udvadia was voted the Runner of the Year in Suffolk County by coaches. The all-state runner finished among the top 10 in the state meet. He was one of only two boys to break 16 minutes at Sunken Meadow State Park last year, clocking 15:57 on the 3.1-mile course. He won a county championship, all seven invitationals he competed in as well as all six of Shoreham’s dual meets, all victories by the League VI champion Wildcats, by the way.
“Ryan is one of the top two to three runners in all of Long Island,” Szymanski said of his senior captain. “Ryan is in great shape right now. He was running six days a week in the whole month of August, and he’s ready to go right now. Now the only problem is he has to stay perfect again and we’ll be O.K.”
Well, the truth is the Wildcats are more than O.K. They have claimed 10 straight league titles, nine county crowns in the past two years, including the last two Class B championships, and show no signs of slowing down. They haven’t lost a dual meet in three years. And, as talented as Udvadia is, they have other strong runners, too.
Pete Steinbrecher, Jack Kelly, Matt Leunig, Connor McAlary, and Roman Brown — all returning seniors — should produce points. Ryan Groskopf, a junior, and Michael Godfrey, a sophomore, are competing for the No. 6 and No. 7 spots along with Brown. Szymanski said he was not sure where junior Matt Gladysz will fit into the picture.
Also among the team’s 21 runners are some good looking freshmen: Anthony Peraza, Chris Sheenan, Sebastian Rodriguez and Anthony Lynch.
So, things are looking up for the Wildcats.
Said Szymanski, “The important thing is we have to keep the team healthy and the coach sane, which isn’t easy to do.”
The top seven runners for Riverhead wear a distinction. Literally.
While their teammates wear practice jerseys that read, “Blue Waves,” the top seven have jerseys that read, “Cross Country.” As coach Patrick Burke sees it, it’s motivation, something for runners to strive for. “The guys that have those jerseys, they feel a certain amount of honor and respect,” he said.
Having graduated Anthony Galvan, who now runs for SUNY/Cortland, Riverhead still has Travis Wooten, a senior all-league runner in his fifth year on the team. He leads the pack along with senior Joe Gattuso and junior Nicholas Kunha.
“We’re expecting great things from Travis,” Burke said. “Travis has been a top-five runner as a freshman and he was our second-best runner last year right behind Anthony Galvan. We’re hoping that this is the year for him.”
Also wearing the coveted practice jerseys earmarked for the team’s top runners are junior Jeremy Bornstein, junior Owen O’Neill, freshman Eric Kunha (Nicholas’ brother) and sophomore Connor Behr.
“I’m looking forward to seeing those people, the top runners, reach their potential,” said Burke.
With 11 freshmen and 10 sophomores on a team of over 30 runners, the future looks bright for Riverhead. “We have some depth and we have the younger guys coming up that are going to challenge the top seven,” said Burke.
Burke said a good number of his runners have been training over the summer in preparation for the season. Cross country is a sport without shortcuts. There is only one way to succeed, and that is through putting the miles in.
“It’s grueling,” Burke said. “To be a good runner, you have to put the mileage in.”