09/15/11 7:29pm
09/15/2011 7:29 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Rachel Harrison-Smith was the first Riverhead finisher in the Peconic Invitational, coming in 23rd place in 24 minutes 55.45 seconds.

To many high school cross-country runners and coaches, the first race of the season is an eye-opener, giving them an idea of what to expect for the season. For Audrey Kelly, though, every race is a fact-finding mission.

“I like to think of every race as a scientific experiment, so I like to try to figure out what’s working and what’s not,” said the Shoreham-Wading River senior.

So, how did Thursday’s experiment turn out?

“I think pretty favorably,” Kelly said. “I think I’m pretty happy with how it worked out.”

Really, there is no reason why she shouldn’t be. Kelly found her way along the 3.1-mile course at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays to finish fifth in the fourth annual Peconic Invitational. She completed the race in 22 minutes 37.05 seconds.

How did she feel about her time?

“It’s not what I was hoping for, but I’m happy that I finished,” she said. “I would like to improve it. I think I can get it down.”

Kelly had some good company among the cluster at the head of the pack. East Hampton senior Ashley West turned in a winning time of 21:22.21. Ryleigh Donegan (21:30.91), Jordan Sanders (22:03.75) and Georgie Nicholes (22:25.18), all of Center Moriches, were the next three finishers.

And then there was Kelly and a Center Moriches runner, Molly Schaefer, who was sixth in 22:45.54. Laura Lee of Shoreham-Wading River came in seventh in 22:48.28.

“My kick at the end was kind of a surprise,” Lee said. “I didn’t know I had that much left, and I caught at least five girls … so I was happy about that.”

Another Shoreham-Wading River girl, Claire Shanklin, was 11th in 23:21.93, one place in front of Mattituck’s Kaylee Bergen (23:22.69).

Rachel Harrison-Smith was the top Riverhead runner, coming in 23rd in 24:55.45.

Center Moriches won the team scoring with 36 points, and Shoreham-Wading River was second with 69. Mattituck placed fifth among the 10 teams with 151 points.

Shoreham-Wading River has a young team. Kelly and Genevieve Kuczewski are the only seniors among the team’s top 10 runners. (Kuczewski posted a time of 25:12.38 and was 29th.)

“I thought they did well,” Shoreham-Wading River Coach Paul Koretzki said of the Wildcats. “They did a lot of miles in the summer.”

And it showed.

Koretzki was pleasantly surprised by the showings made by Shanklin and her twin sister, Laura, who was 18th in 24:31.99.

The Wildcats run their home meets at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park. What was their take on Red Creek Park?

“Nothing compared to our home course, but it’s still a challenge,” Lee said. “I didn’t really know what to expect. The hills at the end were kind of a surprise.”

Bergen of Mattituck was the second freshman to complete the race, her first in the sport.

“I thought I did good,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting all the hills, but I fought through them and I was proud of myself.”

Another Mattituck runner, eighth-grader Audrey Hoeg, also made her debut in the sport. By clocking a time of 24:07.21, she shaved a minute and a half off her last practice time.

“On the bus ride here I was really excited and I tried not to get nervous, but of course, as soon as I stepped on the starting line, my stomach twists,” Hoeg said. “But once you start, you can’t really turn back. You have to finish. You just keep going. You work through the pain and you just finish, and it feels great at the end.”

bliepa@timesreview.com