The odds weren’t in Shoreham-Wading River’s favor. Not only was Shoreham missing its best runner, but the girls 4×1 mile relay team was seeded 12th in a field of 15 and had as many as eight teams ahead of it during the race.
But odds don’t determine track and field races. Times and heart do.
Shoreham had both of those factors in its favor Saturday when it won a national championship.
“It’s just unreal,” Shoreham’s Amanda Dwyer said. “I never thought we’d win.”
Coach Paul Koretzki called it “an amazing story.”
Shoreham’s star runner, junior Katherine Lee, was shut down for the indoor season after injuring her left ankle last month in the Millrose Games. That was an undoubted blow to Shoreham’s 4×1 mile relay team and its chances in the 19th annual New Balance Indoor Nationals meet, which bills itself as “the fastest party on the planet.”
Maria Smith, coming fresh off a basketball season, filled Lee’s place in Saturday’s race at The Armory in Manhattan. She joined fellow seniors Payton Capes-Davis, Allie Hays and Dwyer on the relay team, running her mile in 5:10.
“She was a hero,” Koretzki said. “She came through.”
As did the other Wildcats, winning a thrilling race in 20 minutes, 33.12 seconds. Milton (Massachusetts) was second in 20:41.08 and the Ursuline School (New York) took third in 20:41.47.
“I started crying because it’s just like anything I ever dreamed of,” said Capes-Davis, who won a gold medal at the recent state meet in the distance-medley intersectional relay. “This has been the year where all my biggest dreams have come true.”
If nothing else, the triumph is a testament to Shoreham’s strength in the mile. All four Wildcats are committed to run for NCAA Division I teams in the fall — Capes-Davis for Bucknell, Dwyer for Monmouth, Smith for Marist and Hays for Columbia.
“Deep in milers, deep in hard work, deep in dedication,” said Hays.
The Wildcats, wearing neon green tops and black shorts, were cheered on by Lee, who was in attendance.
Capes-Davis, who said she was hampered by a hip problem, went out hard and led for the first 950 meters, with a huge pack on her heels. She eventually dropped back to seventh.
“Honestly, when I stepped off the track and I handed off, I thought I blew it,” she said.
The next Shoreham runner, Dwyer, was eighth shortly after the baton exchange. Then it was Smith’s turn. Running in her first indoor race ever for Shoreham, Smith was sixth at the handoff, worked her way to third and then was fourth when she handed off to Hays.
Hays said: “When I got the baton, I was like, ‘OK, this is definitely possible. The girls in front of me are not that far in front.’ ”
With a little over 800 meters to go, Hays passed Syosset for second place and then took the lead from West Springfield (Virginia) with 200 meters left. “It was just kind of like smooth sailing then,” she said.
Koretzki said: “When I saw her coming around the turn, I actually had a little tear in my eye. … It was actually a work of art.”
Hays extended her lead on the bell lap before crossing the finish line with both arms raised, but no sign of emotion on her face. She had run her mile in a personal-best 5:00.42. Hays was greeted by an official before walking over to her teammates and hugging them.
“I was just speechless,” Dwyer said. “I was in shock. I’m still trying to process it, but I’m just so happy.”
Smith said: “I literally was speechless. I didn’t even know what to say.”
Shoreham assistant coach Bob Szymanski said, “Every girl did their job.”
These four aren’t the first Shoreham girls to win a national championship. Melissa Baker was a three-time race walk champion in the early 1990s, Danielle Opatovsky was a race walk champion in 2011 and Lauren Biscardi won three titles in the high jump in the mid-2000s, according to Koretzki.
Koretzki figures the Wildcats lost about 19 seconds by not having Lee in the lineup. That only makes what Shoreham did all the more impressive.
“I think that speaks for how hard-working and talented the four of us are,” Hays said. “As opposed to viewing it as, oh, we won despite not having Katherine, it’s kind of a testament to, well, we won. How much more can we do? We won nationals.”
Photo caption: From left, Shoreham-Wading River’s 4×1 mile relay team of Payton Capes-Davis, Allie Hays, Maria Smith and Amanda Dwyer were in their glory after winning a national championship. (Courtesy photo)