By the time the four members of Riverhead’s 4 x 800 relay team prepared to take the track for the final event of Saturday’s League III Championship, three runners had individual medals to their name.
“None of them were satisfied with that because each of them wanted to run a little better,” said Riverhead coach Justin Cobis. “So I said let’s use that as motivation.”
The goal quickly became defending the 4 x 800 title, which the Blue Waves won last year. Three of those runners were back this season.
“They really took that challenge on,” Cobis said.
The Blue Waves’ quartet succesfully defended their title, running 10 minutes 46.56 seconds to hold off Hauppauge, the team that won the overall League III title, by just under four seconds.
The trio of junior Rachel Conti, sophomore Maria Dillingham and freshman Meghan Van Bommel were all apart of last year’s league title team. The addition this year was freshman Megan Carrick, who ran varsity last year and was an alternate on the relay.
The relay victory was the highlight of the meet for the Blue Waves, who only tallied 21 points for a seventh-place finish. With a young roster, the Blue Waves are better suited for the spring season when many of their strong athletes return from playing other sports like basketball. While the Blue Waves knew going into the meet they wouldn’t be in contention for the championship, the relay victory provided a welcome endnote.
“This is really another way to have a positive end to a great league championship meet,” Cobis said.
Conti ran the opening leg of the relay and stayed close to par with a strong leadoff runner from Hauppauge. Conti handed off to Van Bommel, who gave the Blue Waves a lead at the halfway point of the race.
Carrick ran the third leg and despite feeling nauseous during the meet, battled through it to keep the Blue Waves close. Hauppauge gained about a four-second advantage over Riverhead going into the final leg.
That’s when Dillingham took over and worked her magic.
She quickly surged out of the gate to draw even with Hauppauge over the first 200 meters. From there she stayed even with Hauppauge, waiting to make her next move. With 200 meters to go, she hit the accelerator and grabbed the lead for good.
“When we saw it was a four-second gap and we knew that Maria had the baton, we kind of knew at that point we would be OK,” Cobis said. “She’s tough as nails.”
Dillingham had a fourth-place finish in the 600 (1:44.47), taking a second off her best time.
Conti had the best individual finish for the Blue Waves, finishing third in the 1,000 (3:19.23). Van Bommel was sixth in the 1,500 (5:28.43).