Another race, another victory for Opatovsky

All season Danielle Opatovsky projected a confidence in herself before any competition. A senior for Shoreham-Wading River, Opatovsky won race after race this winter in the race walk, leading up to her victory in the state championship March 5.

Still, one race remained — the New Balance Indoor Nationals Saturday at the Armory in New York. In the week leading up to the national meet, Opatovsky began to feel the pressure for the first time. She had the top seed in the nation and thus was the favorite going in.

“In between the week of states and nationals I was freaking out every day,” Opatovsky said. “I was stressing about it. I just wanted to finish it off right.”

On the day of the meet, the confidence returned. On the starting line she told herself, “I’m the national champ.”

Then she went out and proved it.

In the one-mile race walk, Opatovsky finished in 7 minutes, 14.2 seconds to become the third Shoreham girl in school history to win an event at a national meet. She joins Lauren Biscardi, a national champ in the high jump, and Melissa Baker, a three-time national champ in the race walk from 1992-94.

Opatovsky posted the fastest time for a senior in school history in the event, finishing just shy of overall school record held by Baker of 7:12, which she set in her junior year, according to Shoreham coach Paul Koretzki.

Opatovsky, who was an All-American during the spring season last year, edged out Crosby Tillman of Somers (N.Y.) for the title. She also beat Tillman at the state championship.

At the start of the race Opatovsky went out fast to quickly seize a lead that she would never relinquish.

“That’s basically what I have been doing all season,” she said. “This was particularly really fast. I really didn’t control myself when I went out. I went out at a 1:37 which would havem, if I had kept it, broken the national record by a lot, but obviously I didn’t keep it. But I totally psyched everyone out.”

Opatovsky received one warning from an official during the race for her form.

“I was worried a little bit about it,” she said, “but once I was out I wasn’t going to change the form that I was doing. I realized that either I’m going to keep doing it the way I’m doing it and win or I don’t want it at all. It would have been a shame if I slowed down because my form was off and then not won it.”

At the national meet the race walk was one mile as opposed to 1,500 meters that most of the races Opatovsky competed in this season were. It made for a slight adjustment, mostly on following her split times, which were all slightly different than what she was used to.

As a younger runner in past years the change in distance was more nerve-wracking, she said. This year she said she feels more confident in the longer races.

Opatovsky had plenty of support at the Armory with a group of her track friends sporting T-shirts that read “Team Opatovsky.”

“It was really fun and distracted me from the race,” she said. “It was cool that they all came and we got to have so much fun. I wasn’t freaking out before my race, I was just having fun. I was really happy to be there and glad all my friends could come.”

The national meet marked the end of a long season for Opatovsky, but she won’t call it quits just yet. She said she plans to keep working out to prepare for the Wildcats’ first meet of the spring season. After March 30, she said she’ll take about five days off before turning her attention back to the spring season.

The Wildcats had two other girls compete at the national meet as well. Junior Shannon McDonnell ran the 800 in the emerging elite race, which is made up of underclassmen runners that did not have one of the top seed times for the championship race. McDonnell finished in fourth place in 2:17.04, which was a school record for a junior, according to Koretzki.

Sophomore Laura Lee ran the 400 emerging elite race and finished in 23rd in 1:00.66. Koretzki said her time topped the school’s sophomore record previously held by McDonnell.

For the boys senior Erik Anderson cleared a personal-best 6 feet, 5 inches in the high jump to finish 13th in the championship. The top mark was 7-00 1/4 by Mark Jones of Summit, N.J.