Following foot surgery, Skinner shows she can run from the rest of the field

DIX HILLS — Riverhead High School senior Katie Skinner was gliding toward the finish line in the 4 x 800-meter relay, with the competition from Half Hollow Hills East nowhere in sight. Her teammate Melodee Riley gathered a couple teammates, some pompoms and ran out in front of the bleachers where the rest of the Blue Waves were gathered to watch the last event of Tuesday’s girls track and field dual meet. Lifting her left leg 45 degrees off the ground and raising her left arm at the same angle toward the sky, Riley shouted, “Give me a K.”

The “Katie Skinner” chant reverberated through the track at Half Hollow Hills East High School as Skinner ran the last 100 meters. Her 800-meter split took 2 minutes 38 seconds, and with it, Riverhead won, 87-62. It was her third event of the day, the first time this spring that Skinner has run three events in one meet.

Despite the fact that she is still not at full strength, Skinner ran away from the field in all three, giving the Blue Waves a glimpse of what could have been during the dual-meet season. They finished 2-4 overall and in Suffolk County League III. With the home loss, the Thunderbirds remain winless at 0-5, 0-5.

As she watched Skinner nearly lap her competition in the 3,000 meters, Riverhead Coach Maria Dounelis said: “We have her, we win the league. No doubt.”

Skinner missed the season’s first three weeks after foot surgery. The initial pain was caused by a piece of metal that somehow got stuck in her right foot. During the medical process, Skinner discovered that she had, unbeknownst to her, a cyst in her right foot for four years.

“I feel like it’s been so long, but it’s only been a month and a half,” Skinner said of her absence from the track.

In her first two weeks back, Skinner focused on running the 3,000 meters. Against the Thunderbirds, Dounelis suggested that Skinner try the 1,500 as well. Teammate Julianna Marcucci paced Skinner through the first two laps before letting Skinner race ahead to finish in 5:11.5. Marcucci’s time was 5:21.1.

Skinner’s time in the 3,000 was 11:32.7, good enough to win by a minute and a half. Still, it was also slower than what she is capable of running, suggesting that she is not all the way back physically quite yet. Her fastest time since her return, Dounelis said, was 11:04, which she ran last week. “I ran three events today and that got my confidence up,” Skinner said. “I think the main thing is mentally getting back and seeing what I can do physically a little bit at a time.”

She added: “I’m definitely happy with the times I got. It helps my confidence a lot.”

While Dounelis asked Skinner to run the 1,500, it was Skinner who asked her coach to let her run the day’s final relay.

By the end, Skinner had her third victory of the day, tying Riley, the teammate cheering her on to her last stride. Riley started the day by winning the triple jump by nearly five feet over the Thunderbirds’ Jordan Williams, who leaped 31 feet 9 1/4 inches. Riley’s three jumps were all within two inches of each other. Her longest was 36-7 1/4, slightly shorter than her season-best of 37-3.

Eight events later, Riley blazed through the 400-meter intermediate hurdles despite running straight into a stiff headwind that at times was gusting more than 20 miles per hour. She won the event in 1:08.6.

“She has a great 400,” Dounelis said. “So I said, let me put her in the intermediate hurdles. First time, 65 [seconds]. She’s amazing.”

Dounelis added, “If we can actually teach her to hurdle, I can’t even imagine what the time would be.”

For good measure, Riley won the long jump, outjumping her nearest competitor, teammate Fatima Brown, with a leap of 17-1 1/4.

“She’s jumping nice,” Dounelis said. “If we can get her footing, her stepping better, then we’ll be on target.”

Riley’s farthest long jump this season was 17-5 and she had not competed in the event before this season.

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