11/07/13 5:00pm
11/07/2013 5:00 PM

RIVERHEAD COURTESY PHOTO | Riverhead boys cross country coach Patrick Burke was named the Section XI Coach of the Year after guiding the Blue Waves to their first league title since 1998.

After helping guide the Riverhead boys cross country team to its first league title in 15 years, coach Patrick Burke was honored as the Section XI cross country Coach of the Year. The Blue Waves won 15-47 in their final dual meet against Half Hollow Hills West Oct. 15 to finish 5-0 in League IV.

It was their first league title since 1998.

The Blue Waves went on to compete in the Section XI Division Championship and finished fifth in Division II. In the Section XI State Qualifier Nov. 1 at Sunken Meadow State Park, senior Joseph Gattusso ran the top time for Riverhead in 19 minutes, 38.71 seconds.

“I didn’t want to be overly confident, but I felt good and I felt if we were going to do it, this was the year, and everything was in place,” Burke said after the Blue Waves beat Hills West.

10/15/13 5:31pm
10/15/2013 5:31 PM
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | With team captain Joe Gattuso raised on the shoulders of teammates, the Blue Waves posed for photographs after completing a 5-0 dual-meet season on Tuesday. Riverhead is a league champion for the first time in 15 years.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | With team captain Joe Gattuso raised on the shoulders of teammates, the Blue Waves posed for photographs after completing a 5-0 dual-meet season on Tuesday. Riverhead is a league champion for the first time in 15 years.

BLUE WAVES 15, COLTS 47

The Riverhead High School boys cross-country team had not won a league championship in 15 years. Judging by the happy looks on the faces of the Blue Waves, it was well worth the wait.

Having secured its first league title since 1998 with a vital victory over East Islip a week earlier, Riverhead was the favorite, on paper at least, to beat Half Hollow Hills West on Tuesday and put the finishing touches on a perfect dual-meet season. Then again, as Riverhead senior Travis Wooten said, “You never know until the finish.”

Spectators had a good idea of what direction the race was headed when a blue Riverhead uniform made the final turn out of the woods at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead before hitting the final straightaway to the finish line.

And then came another blue uniform. And then another. And another. And another.

The first five finishers — and six of the top seven — were Riverheaders. By bolting to a 15-47 victory, the Blue Waves completed their dual-meet season with a sparkling 5-0 record in Suffolk County League IV. It was the first time this season that Riverhead swept the top five places in a race.

“I couldn’t have asked for something better,” Wooten said. “This is amazing.”

Two seniors running in the final dual meet of their high school careers, Wooten and captain Joe Gattuso, led the way for Riverhead. Wooten was the first to complete the 3.1-mile course in 17 minutes 53 seconds. The next four runners crossed the finish line within 18 seconds of Wooten. Gattuso (17:58) was followed by junior Nick Cunha (18:02), sophomore Connor Behr (18:06) and sophomore Luke Coulter (18:11). Riverhead freshman Eric Cunha, Nick’s brother, was seventh in 18:58.

Half Hollow Hills West finished the league season with a 1-4 record.

“Fifteen years. Oh my God,” said Gattuso, who wasn’t even old enough to go to school 15 years ago. “That’s a long time, 15 years.”

Perhaps the long wait made the achievement even more special.

“It hasn’t happened in a while … and it’s just a great feeling,” said Nick Cunha.

Hills West was added to the list of defeated Riverhead opponents that includes Hauppauge (21-34), West Babylon (19-44), Deer Park (19-54) and East Islip (21-36). The triumph over East Islip, though, at Sunken Meadow State Park was the critical one. Both teams entered that contest with 3-0 records. Recalling that race, Wooten said, “We added up the numbers, and the odds weren’t in our favor.”

That victory clinched at least a share of the title for Riverhead and set the path for the 5-0 season.

“I asked them to do extraordinary things [against] East Islip,” Riverhead coach Patrick Burke told reporters. “We had athletes run 40, 50 seconds faster [against] East Islip. Those are remarkable times. In this race, [it was] more of do what you do, stay in your comfort zone, and if there was a Hills West guy in front of you, pass him.”

Burke said the key to his team’s success has been depth, which in the cross-country world is gold. “I can’t say we have this outstanding team that runs sub-17s at Sunken Meadow, but we have a very good quality team for our division, our league,” he said. “I didn’t want to be overly confident, but I felt good and I felt if we were going to do it, this was the year, and everything was in place.”

After the race, the Blue Waves posed for photos, with Gattuso raised on a couple of shoulders. They had good cause to be happy. All the off-season training and weekend practices had paid off.

“As corny as it sounds, we have heart, you know?” Wooten said. “We haven’t had it for a long time. None of the guys here have ever experienced a league championship before.” He added: “We got it for Coach Burke. It means a lot to him. It means a lot to the team. It means a lot to the school.”

So, the Blue Waves will get a banner to hang in their gym. More immediately, mention during the school’s morning announcements was expected.

Nick Cunha said, “I think we’re going to get our names announced on the loudspeaker.”

Fifteen years later, it’s a deserving honor.

bliepa@timesreview.com

09/13/13 7:00pm
09/13/2013 7:00 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK PHOTO  |  Shoreham-Wading River junior Ryan Udvadia was honored as the top runner in the county.

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior Ryan Udvadia was honored as the top runner in the county last fall.

PREVIEW

Bob Szymanski, the Shoreham-Wading River boys cross country coach, was talking to a reporter about his team’s star runner, Ryan Udvadia, when he suddenly interrupted himself. “You know how to spell Udvadia, right?” he asked the scribe.

It didn’t sound as if Szymanski was joking, but he could have been. Udvadia’s exploits in cross country as well as track and field have made headlines.

In cross country last fall, Udvadia was voted the Runner of the Year in Suffolk County by coaches. The all-state runner finished among the top 10 in the state meet. He was one of only two boys to break 16 minutes at Sunken Meadow State Park last year, clocking 15:57 on the 3.1-mile course. He won a county championship, all seven invitationals he competed in as well as all six of Shoreham’s dual meets, all victories by the League VI champion Wildcats, by the way.

“Ryan is one of the top two to three runners in all of Long Island,” Szymanski said of his senior captain. “Ryan is in great shape right now. He was running six days a week in the whole month of August, and he’s ready to go right now. Now the only problem is he has to stay perfect again and we’ll be O.K.”

Well, the truth is the Wildcats are more than O.K. They have claimed 10 straight league titles, nine county crowns in the past two years, including the last two Class B championships, and show no signs of slowing down. They haven’t lost a dual meet in three years. And, as talented as Udvadia is, they have other strong runners, too.

Pete Steinbrecher, Jack Kelly, Matt Leunig, Connor McAlary, and Roman Brown — all returning seniors — should produce points. Ryan Groskopf, a junior, and Michael Godfrey, a sophomore, are competing for the No. 6 and No. 7 spots along with Brown. Szymanski said he was not sure where junior Matt Gladysz will fit into the picture.

Also among the team’s 21 runners are some good looking freshmen: Anthony Peraza, Chris Sheenan, Sebastian Rodriguez and Anthony Lynch.

So, things are looking up for the Wildcats.

Said Szymanski, “The important thing is we have to keep the team healthy and the coach sane, which isn’t easy to do.”

The top seven runners for Riverhead wear a distinction. Literally.

While their teammates wear practice jerseys that read, “Blue Waves,” the top seven have jerseys that read, “Cross Country.” As coach Patrick Burke sees it, it’s motivation, something for runners to strive for. “The guys that have those jerseys, they feel a certain amount of honor and respect,” he said.

Having graduated Anthony Galvan, who now runs for SUNY/Cortland, Riverhead still has Travis Wooten, a senior all-league runner in his fifth year on the team. He leads the pack along with senior Joe Gattuso and junior Nicholas Kunha.

“We’re expecting great things from Travis,” Burke said. “Travis has been a top-five runner as a freshman and he was our second-best runner last year right behind Anthony Galvan. We’re hoping that this is the year for him.”

Also wearing the coveted practice jerseys earmarked for the team’s top runners are junior Jeremy Bornstein, junior Owen O’Neill, freshman Eric Kunha (Nicholas’ brother) and sophomore Connor Behr.

“I’m looking forward to seeing those people, the top runners, reach their potential,” said Burke.

With 11 freshmen and 10 sophomores on a team of over 30 runners, the future looks bright for Riverhead. “We have some depth and we have the younger guys coming up that are going to challenge the top seven,” said Burke.

Burke said a good number of his runners have been training over the summer in preparation for the season. Cross country is a sport without shortcuts. There is only one way to succeed, and that is through putting the miles in.

“It’s grueling,” Burke said. “To be a good runner, you have to put the mileage in.”

bliepa@timesreview.com