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The Big Five has been reduced to the Big One.

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And it did.

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The beginning of winter track season comes with a relaxed feel. The early crossover meets where teams compete are mostly a tune-up and a chance for athletes to get their legs under them in different events.

For a team like Shoreham-Wading River, a slow introduction to the winter season is an added benefit. Coming off a cross country season that saw its runners win the second state title in program history, the Wildcats could use a brief break before gearing up for the grind of indoor and outdoor track.

Katherine Lee’s cross country season ran so long, it bumped into about three weeks of winter track. After earning all-America honors at the Nike Cross Nationals in Oregon on Dec. 3, Lee took a well-deserved few days off before getting back to training. Another of Shoreham’s top runners, Ally Hays, also took about two weeks off in between seasons, coach Paul Koretzki said.

When the Wildcats get back into full swing, the duo of Lee and Hays and the other returning runners should be enough to propel the team into contention for a county title. Koretzki said the Wildcats’ strength lies in its distance runners. The team lacks depth in the sprints and field events, which should make them better suited for a county meet compared to a league meet.

In Lee, the Wildcats return the top 3,000-meter runner in the county last year. She qualified for the state meet in the 600 as well, showing off strong versatility. Koretzki said Lee’s goal is to make it back to the state meet.

Hays was right behind Lee in the 3,000 last year at the state qualifier meet to also earn a trip to states. The 3,000 will likely be her top event again this year, Koretzki said.

Senior Payton Capes-Davis was a key contributor to the Wildcats’ cross country success and will start off in the 1,000 for indoor track. Senior Amanda Dwyer is another cross country runner, along with sophomore Francesca Lilly. The distance runners should make a formidable 4 x 800 team, anchored by Hays and Lee.

Junior Grace Ficken returns as the team’s top shot-putter. She threw 30 feet 9 inches for fourth place at a crossover meet Sunday.

Koretzki said the team is eyeing the Marine Corps Holiday Classic in New York on Dec. 29 as the first big test of the season.

Delu Rizzo ran this past fall on Riverhead’s cross country team. A freshman, Rizzo showed promise for what the coaches imagined as a middle-distance or distance runner in winter track.

But Riverhead coach Justin Cobis was in for a surprise.

“We didn’t know she could run a beastly 200 and 300 meter run,” Cobis said. “She is like out of nowhere and really enjoying it.”

Rizzo had been trying to make her case to the coaches to no longer run the distance workouts. So Cobis gave her a shot at a recent practice.

“I said let me see you’re a sprinter and you won’t have to run with mid-distance and distance any more,” he said. “And she dominated that entire workout.”

Rizzo is part of a resurgence of young sprinters at Riverhead that has Cobis thinking will soon break the school indoor record in the 4 x 200 relay. Freshman Miasha Pittman is another sprinter who has shown a lot of promise. She ran 7.95 seconds in the 55-dash at Sunday’s crossover meet. And that’s a time as a novice to the event; she did not use starting blocks.

Cobis said her best attribute is a competitive fire.

“She does not like to lose,” he said.

Pittman will also compete in jump events.

The Blue Waves expect to have an equally strong 4 x 800 team, led by another freshman, Megan Kielbasa. She’s already in her third year on varsity and is coming off a strong cross country season. She ran the 1,000 Sunday in 3:20.72 for fifth place.

Cobis said he hopes to see Kielbasa break five minutes in the 1,500 this year.

Juniors Olivia Pizzuto and Aimee Drexel are team captains and can both run distance events. Freshman Emma Conroy is another key runner in distance events.

The Blue Waves will have a familiar face coaching this year. Melodee Riley, a 2012 graduate, competed for four years at UConn as a long jumper and triple jumper. Cobis said Riley will help out coaching both the boys and girls this year.

The McGann-Mercy girls feature a new coach this season in Zack Zieniewicz. Former coach Collin Zeffer accepted a coaching position at University of Pennsylvania.

The Monarchs lost their standout distance runner, Meg Tuthill, to graduation. But the team returns of a formidable duo on the track in seniors Kaitlyn Butterfield and Maddie Joinnides. Butterfield narrowly missed qualifying for the state meet last year during the indoor season in the 1,000. She was a third-place finisher at the small school county meet in the 1,500.

Butterfield, who’s coming off a strong cross country season, will attend the University at Albany to run track after her career at Mercy winds down. She’ll run anywhere from the 600 to 1,500 during the indoor season.

Joinnides runs the 600. She was first in the event at a crossover meet Sunday at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood.

The Monarchs also return senior Siobhan Merrill in the sprints and senior Devyn O’Brien in the mid-distance and distance events.

Photo caption: Shoreham-Wading River runner Allie Hays (left), Maddie Joinnides of Mercy and Megan Kielbasa of Riverhead. (Credit: Bill Landon)

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