In nearly any other year, the moment Luke Coulter crossed the finish line of the 800-meter race would have been a euphoric and triumphant culmination of a career.
Coulter, who spent his senior season re-writing the Riverhead record books for both the indoor and outdoor seasons, appeared at first to be a state champion Friday on the first day of the New York State Championships at Cicero-North Syracuse High School. Racing in the fourth and final heat, Coulter crossed the finish line of the 800-meter championship race first.
His time of 1 minute 53.47 seconds topped his previous best and was a stride ahead of the next runner, Owen Barber of Allegany-Lime (1:54.38).
Crossing first in the fastest heat typically means a title. But on this day, Coulter was racing against the clock as much as the other runners in the race.
One heat earlier, Eion Nohilly of John Jay shocked the crowd with a time of 1:52.77.
For Coulter, that meant settling for second place after his race ended.
“It was really heartbreaking,” Coulter said, adding that he knew as soon as the race ended he had not actually won despite winning his heat.
While Coulter had his sights set on a winning a state title, his weekend was still one to remember. He won four medals total — two in the 800 for public school and the federation as well as in the 1,600, which he ran Saturday.
“I figured I ran my race perfectly,” he said of the 800. “I can’t be mad about not winning a race that I didn’t even really technically run because I didn’t get the chance to run against that kid. I’m proud of what I did.”
In the 1,600 Coulter ran 4:18.67 to finish eighth overall in the federation and fifth for Division I public schools.
His energy was focused on the 800 the first day, and after pushing everything he had into that race, he found the final few laps of Saturday’s race to be a challenge.
“My legs were pretty shot,” he said. “After the 800 in the mile, I was like ‘Oh man, my legs hurt.’ Usually I’d be feeling strong. But yesterday I pushed my legs to the limit.”
Coulter found a late extra gear at the end of the 1,600 to pass a couple runners and find his way onto the podium.
“I might as well give it my all,” he said.
It was a banner weekend for Shoreham-Wading River sophomore Katherine Lee, who competed in three events. She started in the 3,000 Friday and finished fifth overall in 9:39.88. She shaved more than eight seconds off her previous best set last week at the state qualifier meet.
On Saturday Lee took fifth again, this time in the 1,500 (4:28.96). She beat out another local runner, McGann-Mercy senior Meg Tuthill, who was 10th overall in 4:32.82. Both runners topped their times from last week’s race. Tuthill was third among Division II runners. Tuthill also ran the 800 Friday and finished 11th overall in 2:12.93. She was fifth in Division II.
Lee and her teammates weren’t done yet. Racing with senior Kaitlyn Ohrtman and juniors Alexandra Hays and Payton Capes-Davis, the Wildcats placed fourth overall in the 4 x 800 relay Saturday, topping their best time in 9:07.58. Last week the group set a meet record at the state qualifier in 9:09.55.
In other races, Mercy senior Dale Kelly finished fourth Friday in Division II to earn a spot on the podium in the 400-dash. He ran 49.70. That wasn’t enough, however, to earn a spot in Saturday’s championship race, which combines runners from all divisions.
Photo caption: Riverhead senior Luke Coulter races in the 800 Friday at the state championships in Syracuse. (Credit: courtesy of Justin Cobis)