SECTION XI DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS
Runners often refer to the final stretch of a race as “the kick.” In Suffolk County, few — if any — runners have a better “kick” than Shoreham-Wading River’s Ryan Udvadia.
Whether in a cross country race or track & field, Udvadia is known for his ability to close out races with perfect efficiency. As Tuesday afternoon’s Section XI Division Championship race unfolded at Sunken Meadow State Park in what was going to be the toughest race for Udvadia so far this season, he knew it would come down the “kick.”
The race, which featured the top runners from across the county, ultimately came down to Udvadia and Northport’s Mike Branigan.
Udvadia was aiming to keep his perfect record intact this season, but on this day, Branigan’s “kick” outdid Udvadia, who settled for second place in 16 minutes 16.65 seconds. Branigan finished four seconds ahead of him at 16:12.61.
“Today I had a kick, but it wasn’t as strong as it normally would be,” Udvadia said. “Branigan just had a stronger kick.”
It wasn’t all bad for Udvadia, who still finished first among Division III runners. And the Wildcats won the Division III team title, edging out East Hampton, 41-94.
The championship race features the top two teams from each league plus four at-large teams. From that race, an overall winner is determined, as well as winners for four divisions, which are based on school enrollments. The Wildcats finished second overall behind Northport to top their third place finish from a year ago.
Udvadia said he tried to take the lead from Branigan going up the infamous cardiac hill.
“I wasn’t getting as big of a lead, so I decided to just hold back and let it come down to a kick,” he said.
Udvadia’s time was his fastest at Sunken Meadow this year, but well off his previous bests. That’s due in large part to the different configuration of the 3.1-mile course, which some coaches believed was slightly longer, extending some times by as much as 40 seconds.
Last fall’s hurricane wreaked havoc on much of the course, which had to be altered this season until a new bridge could be completed in one spot. Coaches were hopeful that the old course could be ready for the state qualifier race Nov. 1.
It was the second straight year the division race came down to Udvadia and Branigan. Last year Branigan edged Udvadia by less than a second as both runners clocked in under 16 minutes.
“It is disappointing when you lose your first meet,” Udvadia said. “But I just got to look forward to next week.”
Connor McAlray (17:26.67), Matt Gladysz (17:30.55) Keith Steinbrecher (17:46.54) and Jack Kelly (17:56.45) rounded out the top five for Shoreham, which clinched its 11th straight league title last week in a dual meet win.
“These guys never do bad,” Udvadia said. “They always have a good day.”
The Wildcats finished first as a team in the Varsity 1 race at the Brown Invitational Saturday in Rhode Island behind Udvadia’s first-place time of 15:34.6. That was his best time this year. Steinbrecher, Gladysz and McAlary finished ninth-11th.
The Riverhead boys, fresh off their first league title in 15 years, ran in the championship race Tuesday and finished fifth as a team in Division II.
“I think we kind of gave everything we had to get that title,” said Riverhead coach Patrick Burke.
Senior Travis Wooten, who posted Riverhead’s top time Tuesday in 18:37.44, said it was a challenge as a team to rise up to another level in this race after achieving the goal they so adamantly sought.
“It’s a mental thing,” he said. “We had a goal in mind to be league champions. We achieved that goal and now we also have to say we want to do more than that. It’s hard to do that when we told ourselves all season, ‘let’s win dual meets, let’s win the league.’ ”
The next finishers behind Wooten for Riverhead were: Nick Cunha (18:46.84), Joseph Gattusso (19:22.89) Luke Coulter (19:35.62) and Eric Cunha (19:42.41).
The Blue Waves began the race lined up all the way toward the left of the starting line, which added another challenge. The Riverhead runners needed to run at an angle first to cut down toward the main course. The teams are lined up based on seedings.
“We knew we had to go out a little quick,” Wooten said. “The problem is if you got out fast for too long than you’re stuck with that lactic acid buildup for the rest of the race and it makes the race miserable.”
In the girls’ championship race, Shoreham-Wading River eighth-grader Katherine Lee finished seventh overall in 20:21.48. She helped lead the short-handed Wildcats to a fifth-place finish in Division III.
The Wildcats were without three regular runners due to sickness and injury. Shoreham coach Paul Koretzki said he didn’t want to push the kids in this race in hopes of having them fresh for the state qualifier.
Lee finished first at the Brown Invitational Saturday in the Varsity 1 race in 18:37.2.
“She’s very good,” Koretzki said.
Alexandra Hays finished second for Shoreham in 21:15.47.
The Riverhead girls ran in the team qualifier race Tuesday. Freshman Gabriella Marcucci posted the top time for the Blue Waves in 23:00.03.
“She’s come from like our fifth strongest runner to now probably our strongest runner for the future,” said Riverhead coach Justin Cobis.
Sophomores Meghan Van Bommel (23:44.54) and Megan Carrick (23:48.12) were next for the Blue Waves. Eighth-grader Grace Dillingham ran 24:18.55.
McGann-Mercy sophomore Meg Tuthill ran the fastest time for the Monarchs in the team qualifier race in 22:25.71. She was 17th overall in the race. For the boys, senior Matt Abazis ran 19:54.61 for the Monarchs’ top finish.