WILDCATS 76, PHANTOMS 65
Like a giant orange shot put, the sun burned through the white clouds and smiled down on the Shoreham-Wading River High School track. For the Shoreham boys track and field team, there was a lot more than just sunshine to smile about, though.
After finishing as a league runner-up the past four years, the Wildcats capped off their perfect dual-meet season on Thursday by winning the Suffolk County League VII championship outright, courtesy of a 76-65 victory over rival Bayport-Blue Point.
Afterward, the Wildcats (6-0) celebrated. Their longtime coach, Bob Szymanski, was lifted onto the shoulders of the team’s throwing coach, Bill Hiney, and one of the team’s athletes, Maxwell Maritato. Then the long-distance standout Ryan Udvadia, carrying a pole with an American flag atop it, led the Wildcats on a victory lap around the track.
“That was something we looked forward to, literally, for the last four years,” said Udvadia.
The Wildcats had clinched at least a share of the league crown in their previous dual meet, a win over Babylon on April 23, but they weren’t interested in sharing. No ties for first place. No co-champions. They wanted a title to call their own.
“If we didn’t win today, we would have tied for the league title, but we wanted to just win it all, 6 and 0,” Udvadia said. “There’s nothing like winning it all, going undefeated.”
Bayport (3-2) represented the biggest test for the Wildcats. The Phantoms captured a league title by defeating Shoreham by nine points in their final dual meet last season, leaving the Wildcats in the all-too familiar runner-up spot. Second place was getting old for the Wildcats. “It’s like being second in the Super Bowl all the time,” said Szymanski.
In order to win on Thursday, the Wildcats needed some heroics from Israel Squires. Last month Squires landed the wrong way during a long jump and hurt his hip. “It’s still bothering me,” he said.
Squires said he wasn’t 100 percent, but the ailing hip didn’t keep him from competing. He clinched the meet with his first-place finish in the triple jump. The junior covered 43 feet 3 1/2 inches on his third and final attempt to give the Wildcats an insurmountable 71-55 lead going into the final three relay events.
“If we didn’t have Israel, I don’t think this would have been possible,” Udvadia said. “He sucked it up on that last jump, and when he did that, we knew were going to get this.”
Earlier, Squires reached a distance of 20-1 1/4 on his first and only long jump, passing on his next two attempts. It stood up for first place.
Udvadia was his productive self, winning two individual events, taking second in another, and running the anchor leg for the winning 4×800-meter relay team.
Udvadia and teammate Keith Steinbrecher took the top two places in both the 1,600 and the 3,200. In the 1,600, Udvadia turned in a time of 4:27.6, with Steinbrecher coming in at 4:34.3. The two crossed the finish line virtually simultaneously in the 3,200 in 9:57.
Jack Kelly, Matt Gladysz and Steinbrecher ran the first three legs of the 4×800 relay before Udvadia brought the baton across the finish line in a season-best time: 8:31.
It appeared as if Udvadia could have easily come in first in the 800, too, but, in a sportsmanlike gesture, the senior held up, letting that honor go to Gladysz in 2:00.9. Udvadia’s second-place time was 2:01.8.
One of the more impressive showings of the day came from Shoreham hurdler Matt Leunig. Leunig, a senior, set personal records with his winning runs in both the 110-meter high hurdles (16.2) and the 400-meter intermediate hurdles (59.4).
“Our hurdler was tremendous,” said Szymanski.
Maritato tied a personal record with his winning high jump of 6-2. Squires tied for second at 6-0.
Altogether, the Wildcats took firsts in 11 of the 17 events.
“It was a team performance,” said Szymanski.
Jordan Wright of Shoreham sprinted to first place in the 100 in 11.2 seconds, 3/10ths of a second ahead of the runner-up, teammate Bryce Casey.
Casey took a first, though. With the team’s No. 1 sprinter, Wright, unable to run the 200 because of hamstring tightness, Casey blazed to a winning finish in 23.3.
The Wildcats have rolled this season, outscoring their opponents, 538-309. Thursday’s meet was the closest they have been in. What were they feeling? Urgency? Pressure? Stress?
Perhaps all of the above.
“Yes, it was really intense,” said Leunig.
All in all, things worked out for the Wildcats in the end, although Szymanski was concerned before the meet when he put down his Detroit Lions cap and lost it.
“I said that can’t be a good omen,” he said, “but maybe it’s time to get a new one.”