ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Shannon McDonnell led virtually from start to finish in the Division III 800-meter final.
Melodee Riley may not need a tape measure to figure out how far she has triple jumped. As incredible as it sounds, the Riverhead High School senior claims that she can “feel” the difference between, for example, a 38-foot jump and a 39-foot jump, or a 39-foot jump and a 40-foot jump.
So, when Riley executed her first triple jump in the Division II finals of the Suffolk County Division Championships on Tuesday at Bellport High School, “I knew it had to be something good.”
And it was: 39-1.
That alone would have been enough to give Riley her third straight division title in the event, but she went on to stick a season-best 40-4 on her final attempt to win by an even larger margin. Riley’s nearest competitor, Copiague senior Janel Francis, was second at 38-8. Riverhead sophomore Kyra Braunskill Miller took third at 36-10.
The UConn-bound Riley has made her mark, not only in Riverhead’s track program, but in the school’s athletic program. She holds school records in the triple jump (41-3 1/4, which she set in last year’s state qualifying meet), the long jump and the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. (Riley said she doesn’t practice running the hurdles. “I wing it,” she said.) She has been a member of school-record-holding teams in the distance-medley relay and the 4×400-meter relay. In addition, she is 10ths of a second away from the Riverhead 400 record.
Last year Riley pulled off a tremendous feat, winning New York State Division I long jump and triple jump titles as well as a state federation crown in the triple jump.
That’s quite a list of accomplishments for an athlete whose introduction to track and field came when she was a freshman.
“Melodee is probably the best female athlete that Riverhead has ever had,” Riverhead coach Maria Dounelis said. “She’s just unbelievable.”
Riley was kept busy on Tuesday, the first day of the two-day meet. In addition to competing in the triple jump trials and finals, she also qualified for the finals in the 400 and the 400 intermediate hurdles, which she will compete in Thursday along with the long jump.
But there is no doubt that her true love is the triple jump.
“I was always good at it, I guess, and I could always get better, so now it’s my event,” she said. “It’s what I do.”
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO | Riverhead senior Melodee Riley at the start of a 400-meter semifinal.
Riley’s athleticism and exceptional leaping ability have helped her succeed in the technical event. Still, one wonders how many more feet and inches she has in her triple-jumping future. That may be hard to say.
“She’s capable of more than she’s doing now,” said Dounelis.
Riley said: “I have so much more to learn. I don’t know everything. Coaches know everything.”
Riley said she doesn’t take a strategic approach with her when she steps onto the triple-jump runway. She said she just gives everything she has on each attempt. “Whatever happens happens, really,” she said.
Good things happened to Shoreham-Wading River senior Shannon McDonnell on Tuesday. McDonnell, who will run for Yale University next year, flew first to the finish line in the Division III 800 meters in a season-best time of 2 minutes 16.50 seconds. It was her second division title in a row. Her nearest challenger, Hampton Bays junior Shanna Heaney, clocked a time of 2:20.12. Bishop McGann-Mercy sophomore Delina Auciello was third in 2:21.10.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” said McDonnell.
McDonnell said she has been trying to run more consistent 400-meter split times. She said that before the race, Shoreham-Wading River assistant coach Roger Sullivan told her to aim for a 66-second time in the first 400 meters. “I missed it by a little bit, but I came back faster than he wanted in the second” half of the race, she said. “It’s fast enough that I’m still in the race, but that I have enough for the final lap. You want to feel like you left it all out there. I’ve had that feeling before where you feel you could have gone faster, and that’s the worst.”
The only other running final held on Tuesday was the 3,000 meters. In the Division II final, Riverhead freshman Maria Dillingham took 11th place in 11:27.72.
In the Division III 3,000 final, Shoreham-Wading River eighth-grader Kaitlyn Ohrtman finished eighth in 11:14.32. McGann-Mercy eighth-grader Meg Tuthill was 11th in 11:45.58.
Two Riverheaders placed among the top six in the discus. Madison Blom, a sophomore, took third place with a throw of 99-5. Her teammate, senior Kerrysha Pittman, was sixth at 92-9.
McGann-Mercy senior Shannon Nuñez reached the finals of the Division III discus and finished fifth with a distance of 82-6.
Another McGann-Mercy senior, Meghan Donnelly, was a fifth-place finisher in the Division III triple jump on the strength of a 34-4 effort.
McGann-Mercy coach Tricia Nuñez said it was a good day for her team. “Hopefully, Thursday I’ll have a lot more to talk about,” she said.
Riverhead, which has never won a division championship, according to Dounelis, led all Division II teams through four events with 23 points. Kings Park was second with 20.
Through four events in Division III, Miller Place held the top spot with 25 points. McGann-Mercy, Sayville and Shoreham-Wading River were tied for fifth with 10 points each.
Riley has a college track career awaiting her at Connecticut. The break between her high school career and her new life in college will be a quick one. Two days after her high school graduation, she will begin a summer class in Storrs, Conn. “The day after graduation, I’m leaving,” she said.
Of course, Riley hopes to take care of some track business between now and then. She is seeking a fourth straight trip to the state meet. Anything less would be a serious disappointment for her.
“Mel doesn’t like to lose,” explained Dounelis.
As Riley sees it, a fourth state meet is a must for her.
“It’s got to be, senior year,” she said. “If I don’t do this, I’ll be an emotional wreck, and I’m not kidding.”