The Big Five has been reduced to the Big One.
Last year’s Shoreham-Wading River team, which coach Paul Koretzki believes was the best high school girls cross-country team that Suffolk County has ever seen, was primarily powered by five sets of strong legs. Four of those five runners, however, are now running for NCAA Division I teams: Allie Hays (Columbia), Payton Capes-Davis (Bucknell), Amanda Dwyer (Monmouth) and Maria Smith (Marist).
That leaves senior Katherine Lee returning for her fifth season, with some new, young faces around her. Things change. It’s the way of the world.
“It’s evolution, you know what I’m saying?” said Koretzki.
Lee, an exceptional talent, had a tremendous junior season, winning Suffolk County, New York State Class B and Nike regional championships. She became the first SWR girl to run in a national cross-country meet, according to Koretzki, and finished 10th in the Nike National Championship in Portland, Ore.
Describing Lee’s season, Koretzki said, “Obviously, it was almost perfect.”
The same could be said about the SWR team as a whole. The Wildcats went 6-0 in dual meets, winning their third straight League VI title. They went on to claim the Suffolk Class B crown before capturing their second state championship (their first was in 1986).
Koretzki said Lee has been running with SWR’s boys team once every three days. “As long as she is running with the boys and pushing them, she’s going to be OK,” he said.
Lee is undecided over which college she wants to run for. Koretzki said she will visit Georgetown, Villanova and Stanford, among other schools.
SWR’s only other returner is junior Alexandra Smith, the seventh girl on the state championship team.
Sophomore Isadora Petretti, junior Nicole Garcia, junior Danielle Ohrtman and senior Caleigh Capek have been brought up from the junior varsity team. In a JV race at Brown last year involving some 150 runners, Petretti finished first, Garcia second, Ohrtman third and Capek fifth.
“They’re not as great a team as last year,” Koretzki said, “but they’re a competitive team.”
Riverhead sophomore Christina Yakaboski made quite an impression last season, her first in cross country. She made All-County, finishing as the 13th Class A runner in the Section XI Championships by clocking a time of 20 minutes, 25.99 seconds over 3.1 miles at Sunken Meadow State Park.
And that was largely the product of natural athleticism.
“She had no idea what she was doing,” coach Justin Cobis said. “We’ll see very good things from her this season.”
Yakaboski is one of five sophomores who were among Riverhead’s top seven runners last year. Another one of those sophomores, Megan Kielbasa, has made All-County the last three years. “Megan brings a sense of raw competitiveness,” said Cobis.
Senior Olivia Tizzuto is a steady top-five runner that Riverhead (5-1) will be counting on along with sophomores Kristina Deraveniere, Emma Conroy and Natalia Ruzskowski and freshman Madison Stromski.
“Obviously they’re a young team,” Cobis said. “On paper they’re very good. They’ve been training throughout the summer together and the season will be what they make of it.”
Last year Riverhead finished second in League III to Bay Shore. The Blue Waves have been ranked second in the league in a preseason coaches poll.
“We definitely have a goal of giving Bay Shore a run for their money this year,” said Cobis.
Yakaboski should do her part. What is her potential?
Answered Cobis, “Endless.”
Ready or not, here comes the season.
“I wish I had another week, actually,” said Bishop McGann-Mercy’s new coach, Brian Manghan.
Manghan, 64, has been involved in cross country for over 50 years and has spent time coaching in the SWR boys program. Now he takes over the Monarchs (5-1) in his first varsity head coaching job.
“It’s going great,” said Manghan, who is assisted by Sarah Spector. “A lot of these girl ran on their own all summer.”
Four runners are back: seniors Sarah Dern and Olivia Valle, and sophomores Grace Hayes and Anna Falco. They are joined by freshman Lola Anderson, junior Lucas Marianna and seventh-grader Kalista Kahler.
What does Manghan like best about his team?
“Their work ethic,” he said. “They got together all summer on their own and they work hard, and that’s what you need in this sport. You can only go so far on talent.”
Photo caption: Katherine Lee, the first Shoreham-Wading River girl to run in a national cross-country meet, is in her fifth year on the team. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)