Riverhead’s Ashley Courts will compete in the jumping events this year. (Credit: Daniel De Mato)
For the past few years, the Riverhead track coaches have tried to nudge Ra’Shae Smith to come out for the winter track team. Last spring, competing during the outdoor track season, Smith showed promise in the shot put.
The Blue Waves had one of the top shot putters in the county last year in Madison Blom. And Smith got the chance to be the understudy to Blom.
Now as a senior, Smith agreed to join the winter track team and commit to the sport, which is good news for Riverhead.
“She’s just beginning to learn the technique and the basic skills that are involved in the sport,” said Riverhead coach Justin Cobis. “When she starts getting confident and getting everything in coordination, that’s going to be fun to watch.”
In the Blue Waves’ first crossover meet, Smith threw 33 feet 1 1/4 inch to finish in third place. To open the season throwing in the 33-foot range already puts her in the top 10 in the county, Cobis said.
And Smith has hardly reached her ceiling.
“If you saw her throw that hit 33 feet, it looked ugly,” Cobis said. “Once she gets her lower body in sync with her upper body, I would see her as one of the tops in the county.”
The Blue Waves carry over nearly the entire cross country roster into the winter track season, which should put them in good position to have strong middle distance and distance runners.
Seventh-grader Megan Kielbasa, who had a terrific cross country season, has the potential to be a big contributor right away. She ran the 3,000 in the team’s first two crossover meets. She improved her time by nine seconds from one meet to the next, finishing in 11 minutes 23.07 seconds in the most recent meet Saturday at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood.
“She’s learning as she goes,” Cobis said. “When your introduction to winter track is 15 laps, that’s a trial by fire.”
After completing her 15th lap in the first 3,000, Kielbasa kept on running, unaware she had finished the race.
“She’s like a little Energizer Bunny,” Cobis said.
Senior Rachel Clement and junior Megan Carrick will provide leadership and expertise in a number of events for Riverhead. Clement is a versatile athlete who can contribute in an array of field events and on the track. Carrick is a distance runner. Junior Meghan Van Bommel is another veteran to the track who will run some of the shorter events this year. She’ll likely run mostly the 300, 600 and 4 x 400 relay.
The X-factor for Riverhead is Ashley Courts, Cobis said.
“She’s an extremely gifted athlete,” Cobis said.
Courts has the potential to long jump beyond 17 feet and could be among the tops in the county. Cobis said Courts just hasn’t had a breakout meet yet to gain the confidence she needs.
“If we can get her consistent in her craft, she can really surprise everybody,” Cobis said.
The strength of the Shoreham-Wading River winter track team is undoubtedly on the track with some of the middle distance and distance runners. The Wildcats carry over six of the top seven runners from the county champion cross country team.
The weakness lies in the field events.
“We’re going to try to build that up,” said Shoreham coach Paul Koretzki. “But I don’t know where that’s going to go.”
The Wildcats have depth on the track, though, including with sprinters. Two soccer players who were speedsters during the fall on the county championship soccer team will run track this winter in Alex Kuhnle and Megan Kelly, who was fifth at the league championships last year in the 55-meter dash.
“We have a lot of soccer players and they’re in shape, really good,” Koretzki said.
Emily Sopko is one of those soccer players who can run shorter races like the 300.
The top runner from cross country, state champion Katherine Lee, a freshman, will transition to track now. When asked which events Lee will run, Koretzki said “I have no idea.”
As a great distance runner in cross country, the 3,000 might seem an ideal fit. But the Wildcats already have two strong 3,000 runners in junior Kaitlyn Ohrtman and sophomore Alexandra Hays. Two years ago, they went one-two in the 3,000 at the league championships.
Lee may likely slide down to the 1,500. She’ll start off running some shorter races like the 600 and 1,000.
Hays is a welcome addition to the team this year after she played basketball last year. As an eighth-grader she ran winter track on varsity, but the way the schedule worked on the middle school team, she still was able to play basketball. Now that she’s in high school, the seasons conflict.
“That’s a big addition because it gives me more flexibility,” Koretzki said.
Senior Courtney Ricca is a strong hurdler and sophomore Payton Capes-Davis is a gymnast who can do a number of events, including the pole vault. Koretzki said she has the potential to be a triple jumper. Eighth-graders Francesca Lilly and Lexie Smith provide more depth for Shoreham in the distance events.
The McGann-Mercy winter track team lost a few key contributors from last year’s squad, but should be in good position for a strong season this year. Junior Meg Tuthill, who won a medal last year as part of the medley relay team at the state championships, returns as one of the top distance runners for the Monarchs.
Tuthill can run anywhere from the 600 to 3,000. Last year she finished fourth at the state qualifier meet in the 1,000 to earn a trip to the state meet.
This year, her goal is to get back to states, but this time, in an individual event.
“It’s something she has her eyes on,” said Mercy coach Collin Zeffer.
The Monarchs return sophomore Maddie Joinnides, who was sixth in the 300 at last year’s league championships. Sophomore Kaitlyn Butterfield was a fifth-place finisher in the 1,000 a year ago and she has versatility to run a number of different events on the track. Sophomore Devyn O’Brien is another strong runner.
The Monarchs are mostly a young team again this year. The one senior on the team is Adafih Blackburn, who’s a sprinter.