If ever there was a mystery event in high school boys winter track, it is the distance-medley relay.
In the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships, each section sends out a team usually consisting of runners from four different schools who have never run in a meet together. Each runner runs a different distance than his teammates.
The event is not usually run during the rest of the season, and with no previous results to refer to, which team will win is anybody’s guess. Even the runners themselves aren’t sure whether they are headed for a first-place finish — or dead last.
It’s akin to running blindfolded into a dark hallway.
“Sometimes you don’t know what other guys run,” Riverhead’s assistant coach, Will Razzano, said. “You have no idea who you’re racing against.”
It wasn’t until the drama was over that Jacob Robinson knew what everyone else discovered Saturday at Cornell University’s Barton Hall: The Riverhead junior was a member of the third-fastest distance-medley relay team in the state. With that came a place on the podium and a medal for Robinson and his teammates — Half Hollow Hills East senior Andrew Freedman, Sachem North senior Isaac Garcia-Cassani and West Islip sophomore Michael Martiny.
Robinson, who made his first appearance in the state meet, called it a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. “I was just shocked that we took third in the state meet. I really didn’t at first think that we would place.”
Section I finished first in 8 minutes 56.98 seconds. Section II was second in 8:58.34, followed by Section XI in 9:00.98.
Robinson ran the 200-meter second leg in 23.5, according to Razzano.
“Once you see those times pop up and you realize that you medaled, it’s just a great experience, and it’s something you’ll never forget,” Razzano said. “Twenty-three five, especially indoors on this track, a track he’s never run on before, a track that’s got a little bit tighter turns than he’s used to, I’m sure. So, 23.5 is a great time for him.”
Robinson said the baton exchanges, something the team had worked on in practice the day before, were his greatest concern. “I really wasn’t worried about the opponent,” he said. “I was just worried about getting that baton in my hands.”
As it turned out, there was no need to worry; the handoffs went smoothly.
Razzano said there really is no magic to Robinson’s success. The coach said Robinson works hard and listens to the counsel of his coaches.
“He’s been improving week in and week out,” Razzano said. “He peaked at the right time to get the chance to even come up here by running great times, so I’m happy for him that he was just able to get here and do something.
“It’s nice having somebody up here that you didn’t expect maybe at the beginning of the year to be up here. We knew he would be good. We knew he would help the team. To come up to states and get a third-place medal is not really anything I’m sure that he expected or any of us expected, so it was nice that he was able to do that.”
PURE SPEED DOES IT FOR WRIGHT Jordan Wright will tell you that when it comes to the 55-meter dash, there is no strategy. There’s no time for it. As Wright put it, the 55 amounts to “just running as fast as I possibly can.”
On Saturday, that was pretty darn fast, too.
The Shoreham-Wading River senior blazed his way to the medal stand at the NYSPHSAA Championships. Wright earned a sixth-place finish with a time of 6.57 seconds, which is only 2/100ths of a second off the fastest time he has ever run.
Afterward, Wright expressed relief.
“It’s a big load off my back,” he said. “The competition was tough. There was a lot of pressure and stress going into it.”
Even for a runner of Wright’s caliber, there was no guarantee of getting beyond the trials. In an event like the 55, one misstep can spell disaster.
That didn’t happen to Wright, though. He was remarkably consistent, posting a time of 6.60 in the trials and then 6.61 in the semifinals.
Then again, consistency is his strong suit.
“He’s always right there,” Shoreham-Wading River coach Brian Wrinkle said. “He’s very consistent, never false starts.”
The same can’t be said of others, though. Two sprinters, Shaker senior Lloyd Smalling and Arlington senior Trenten Beram, false started in the finals almost simultaneously, leading to their disqualifications. That sliced the final field from eight to six.
Carnell Noble, a junior from Greece Olympia, flew to first place in 6.46, only 1/100th of a second faster than the runner-up, St. Francis Prep senior Justine Guerre. They were followed by Lancaster senior Mitchell Fuller (6.53), DeWitt Clinton senior Ernest Agyeman (6.53), Charlotte junior Andre Hunter (6.55) and Wright.
“He saved his best for last, which is great,” said Wrinkle.
It was the fastest Wright has run, aside from the 6.55 he clocked in the Millrose Games trials at The Armory earlier this season (that was the eighth-fastest seeded time for the state meet).
“I think it’s just actually the adrenaline,” said Wright.
He added: “I didn’t run as well as I wanted to today, but I’m not taking anything away from the fact that there are a lot of fast people here and they deserved it, and at the end of the day I was just grateful for the experience, and whatever disappointment I had today is just going to motivate me for the springtime.”
This was Wright’s second straight appearance in the state indoor meet. He was 16th last year. Returning to the state stage was something he worked hard to achieve.
“His name was on the big board outside the school, ‘Congratulations Jordan,’ ” Wrinkle said. “He was recognized for what he was doing. I don’t know how he couldn’t be excited. This is what he trains all year for, to come here.”
What makes Wright a special sprinter, Wrinkle said, is the work ethic he has to go with his speed.
“He’s just naturally fast, but he makes up the rest,” said Wrinkle, who noted that Wright has a speed-training coach and trains in a gym three or four days a week on his own.
“I made the All-State team, so I was happy,” said Wright, who will run in the New Balance Nationals at The Armory March 14-16. “I was working for that.”
VILLA PULLED FROM MEET When New York’s best high school track and field athletes gathered in Ithaca on Saturday, Riverhead pole vaulter Charles Villa was not among them.
Although Villa had qualified for what would have been his first indoor state meet, the senior was withdrawn from the event because of an ankle injury, said Riverhead coach Sal Loverde. Villa sprained his left ankle during a warmup at the Long Island Elite Track Invitational last week and didn’t compete in that meet.
Loverde said Villa remained upbeat despite the setback, with a national meet and the spring season to look forward to.
Villa, the Section XI champion, is ranked fifth in the state and was listed fourth on the entry list for the state meet with a seeding mark of 15 feet 3 inches.
Warwick Valley senior Todd Uckermark took top honors Saturday by clearing 16-0. The best finisher from Section XI was Mount Sinai senior Charlie Kollmer, who was fourth at 14-6.