The members of Section XI’s distance-medley relay team were essentially strangers just a few days earlier. On Saturday afternoon, they became tied together forever as state champions.
Describing the scene on the podium at Cornell University’s Barton Hall, one of those team members, Meg Tuthill, said, “It was like we were all best friends — and we don’t really know each other.”
A state winner’s medal will do that.
Tuthill, a Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School sophomore, and her newfound friends won medals by virtue of their triumph in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association girls winter track championships.
That’s not a bad introduction to the state meet for a 10th grader.
Though clearly happy with the result, Tuthill’s reaction was measured. Her words were brief and restrained. “I was really happy,” she said. “It’s exciting.”
Tuthill ran the first 1,000 meters in the intersectional relay in about 3 minutes 6 seconds, according to McGann-Mercy’s first-year coach, Collin Zeffer. “I was trying to stay with the front pack,” said Tuthill.
Zeffer said Tuthill was fourth or fifth by the time she handed off the baton to Copiague sophomore Nickeela Austin, who carried it for the next 200 meters. Bayport-Blue Point senior Courtney Dooley brought Section XI the lead during her 600-meter leg, and Connetquot senior Erin Melly added some distance to that lead. When Melly reached the finish line, the time was 10:32.79, and the four Suffolk County runners were state champions.
Section III was second in 10:34.35.
The distance-medley relay is not a predictable event. “Sometimes it comes down to who feels the best, not necessarily who’s the best runner,” said Zeffer.
Tuthill said her time on Saturday was “not good.” She said, “I was really tired.”
Did Zeffer have any pre-race advice for Tuthill?
“Trust the fitness,” he said. “She is in very good shape. She’s been running really fast times. … Just think of it like it’s a normal meet. I know it’s a state championship, just do what you’ve always done.”
Tuthill said the relay team didn’t get together until Friday when she said she ran for 20 minutes on the Barton Hall track, which she said is not a fast one. Speaking of Saturday’s race, she said, “The handoffs [were] a little crazy.”
Tuthill earned her place on the relay team by finishing fourth in the 1,000 meters at the Section XI Championships in 3:03.48, her personal-best time. She was hoping to run something along those lines on Saturday.
“She’s probably not too impressed with the time, but she’s got to remember this is the state championship,” Zeffer said. “There’s going to be some competition.”
Zeffer added, “In the beginning of the season, if you would have told me that we would be in the states, I don’t know if I would have believed it.”
TWO PRS FOR BLOM Tears of joy flowed, and they had nothing to do with winning a medal.
After her day in the NYSPHSAA Championships was done, Riverhead shot putter Maddie Blom, with happy tears in her eyes, wrapped her arms around her father, Jeff Blom, in an emotional embrace.
“When she started to cry, I started to cry,” said Jeff Blom, who himself was an All-County shot put thrower for Riverhead (Class of ’86) who went on to compete for SUNY/Morrisville.
Maddie Blom did not qualify for the finals. What the senior did do, however, was turn in two personal-record throws during her three attempts in the state meet. It was something, she said, that she couldn’t imagine doing, not even in her wildest imagination. “Not here,” she said.
The competition in what was called the deepest field in the shot put in recent memory was no joke. Ten girls entered the meet having thrown over 40 feet. Blom had a seeding mark of 36-7 that ranked her 22nd among the 30 shot putters entered.
It was an intimidating field.
“You don’t pay attention to that, or if you do, you use it as a motivation factor,” said Bill Hedges, Riverhead’s throwing coach.
Blom apparently found enough motivation. She popped a throw of 37 feet 1 inch on her first attempt, improving upon her previous best throw of 36-10. Two throws later she had yet another personal record: 37-3 1/4.
It didn’t send Blom on to the eight-girl finals, but it brought her 17th place when all was said and done.
As a member of the Section XI team, Blom wound up being a roommate with one of her rivals throughout the season, Half Hollow Hills West senior Oyinkansola Adewale (16th at 37-4 3/4). “I was talking to Adewale last night and she was like, ‘Really, anyone can come out and just throw a big one and win. Anyone can take it.’ So, it will be interesting to see who takes it this year.”
That someone was Lancaster senior MacKenzie Kuehlewi, who produced a winning throw of 46-2 1/4.
Blom, making her first appearance in the state meet, sounded overjoyed with her performance.
“It’s kind of surreal to me now,” she said. “I pr’d twice and that was a big deal for me, especially since it’s my last meet of the season, and I was going out against some pretty decent girls. I’m honored to be here. It’s such a great competition. I’m so happy I’m here [and] I performed as well as I did.”
Following a welcoming address by the NYSPHSAA president, Eileen Troy, and the national anthem, came the words the athletes had been waiting for: “Let the games begin!”
The shot put was contested in a caged-in area in the corner of Barton Hall. After the throwers from the first flight completed their turns at heaving the eight-pound ball as far as they could, Blom’s moment came as the first thrower in the second flight.
Jeff Blom said, “I just told her I loved her and I’m proud of her, and go out there and do the best that you can because you can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Maddie Blom said she brought nerves as well as a sense of confidence with her into the shot put circle. “Whenever I get ready to throw and I bend down, I think to myself, ‘This is going to be a good throw,’ ” Blom said. “And I felt it and I threw it, and it felt great.”
Blom said her 37-1 throw felt “liberating. It felt effortless, like it should be.”
Her second throw of 35-2 did not go as well. She said the ball fell into her palm.
Then, she saved her best for last with the final indoor throw of her high school career. “I had to work for that one,” she said.
It wasn’t a bad way to go out.