To those who question whether cross country really is a team sport, we bring you the 2011 Section XI Championships.
It was the team aspect of cross country that came to the forefront when the No. 6 runners for both the Shoreham-Wading River and the Southold boys teams made the difference in bringing their sides sectional championships on Friday at Sunken Meadow State Park. Drama mixed with competition in the form of a tiebreaker process that cast the spotlight on the No. 6 runners.
Shoreham senior John Lee, running in the Class B race, won his second straight sectional title by covering the 3.1-mile distance in 16 minutes 37.20 seconds. Southold freshman Jon Rempe was the Class D champion, clocking a time of 19:17.50.
But it was the No. 6 runners for both teams, Jack Kelly of Shoreham and Matthew Reilly of Southold, who proved pivotal.
Shoreham had finished tied on points with Harborfields, but earned the title because Kelly (19th in 18:05.00) fared better than Harborfields’ No. 6 runner, Connor Pulvidente, who was 20th in 18:09.70.
The tiebreaking procedure also favored Southold, which posted 28 points, as did The Stony Brook School. Reilly’s 12th place in 21:55.00 was critical, though. It topped the 17th place turned in by Stony Brook’s No. 6 runner, Darryl Baker (22:25.50).
Southold coach Karl Himmelman knew the chase for the Class D team title was close, but it wasn’t until he saw the official tally that he learned his team had prevailed in the tiebreaker.
“That’s incredible,” he said. “I was stressing to the kids for the past few weeks that even though cross country seems like an individual effort, it’s very much a team effort. Today was a perfect example of that. Every single runner on this team made a difference. Every stride made the difference to be county champs.”
Every runner counts.
Shoreham coach Bob Szymanski knows that as well as anyone. Anticipating a tight Class B race, he said he had given his runners nine pep talks in the week preceding the meet. “I couldn’t talk any more,” he said.
Then the Wildcats let their legs do the talking for them, collecting their eighth sectional title in nine years.
Lee led the way, defending his sectional crown on a day that was deemed by some as ideal for running.
“I felt this before,” said Lee, who won five invitational meets and every dual meet he competed in this season. “It’s a good feeling.”
Lee follows in the footsteps of Bobby Andrews, who was the last Shoreham boy to win back-to-back sectional titles in 2007 and 2008.
Sunken Meadow’s famed Cardiac Hill doesn’t seem to bother Lee. He came in third as a sophomore in the sectional meet here before winning the meet last year and going on to finish 15th on another hilly course in the 2010 state meet.
“I’m a hill guy,” he said.
The closest competition Lee faced was from Adam LaFemina of Bayport-Blue Point, who was second in 16:51.90.
The strong showing by Shoreham also featured a third-place finish by Tyler Keys (16:53.30) and an eighth-place showing by Ryan Udvadia (17:17.50). Then, places Nos. 17 through 19 were filled by Shoreham’s Dan Purschke (18:02.30), Evan Purdy (18:04.80) and Kelly.
“These guys run with a lot of heart,” Szymanski said. “This is a team sport. I said the only way we can win this is if everybody does their job.”
Kelly didn’t know he had made the difference in the team scoring until a reporter told him afterward. He said he could not have imagined he would have played such prominent a role in the race’s outcome.
“It wasn’t just me,” said the sophomore, who was humble about his contribution. “It was the whole team. We all ran really strong, and I’m really happy.”
The happiness in the Southold camp was also evident.
“It’s been a great day,” Southold coach Karl Himmelman said. “I think this team deserves this win, well, they’ve earned this win. They really have. It starts back in July as we start to run over the summer, and it all comes down to this. They made the most of it.”
With the exception of a single Pierson runner, all of the top 12 Class D finishers were wearing Southold or Stony Brook uniforms.
“My hat’s off to the Stony Brook coach because they had a great race,” Himmelman said. “They were stride for stride with our boys all the way, and it really in many cases came down to that last couple of hundred meters.”
Four Southold runners were among the top eight, including Griffin Quist (third in 20:05.50), Frank Cone (fifth in 20:27.90) and Ryan Hanrahan (eighth in 21:25.10). Ian Toy of Southold was 11th in 21:44.80.
But it was young Rempe who reached the finish line first. “I didn’t do as good as I thought I would,” he said. “… Coming up Cardiac was really tough.”
Himmelman said Rempe has the potential to be an outstanding runner. “The results speak for themselves,” the coach said. “He has got a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to having three more years of him.”
As sectional champions, both Shoreham and Southold will compete as teams in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships on Nov. 12 at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School.
Two Mattituck runners, senior Corey Zlatniski and junior Casey Grathwohl, will be making the trip upstate because of their performances in the Class C race. Zlatniski finished fourth behind three Port Jefferson runners in 17:42.70, the best time he has ever posted on the course. Grathwohl was three places behind him at 18:16.60.
This is Zlatniski’s second year of qualifying for the state meet, but it didn’t seem to detract from his excitement. “Stoked,” he said. “There’s no other way to explain it. I trained so hard this whole year just to get this.”
Riverhead junior Anthony Galvan had a lot to feel good about as well. Although he didn’t qualify for the state meet, Galvan earned all-county status with a personal-record time of 17:29.60 that brought him 26th place in the Class A race.
It was hard to say who was more excited over the achievement, Galvan or his coach, Patrick Burke.
“You can’t teach heart and soul,” Burke said. “That’s what this runner has.”
Galvan, who didn’t qualify for the sectional meet last year, said being an all-county runner means a lot to him. “It’s something I always wanted,” he said. “It’s like a dream come true.”