All around her, the congratulations came pouring in for the Shoreham-Wading River freshman.
“I love you!” said one competitor from McGann-Mercy. “Even though you don’t know me…”
Katherine Lee, who first came up to varsity as a seventh grader during winter track at Shoreham, found herself in the spotlight Tuesday afternoon after running a personal best time in the Section XI Division Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park. Lee ran 19 minutes 2.17 seconds in the championship race, easily the fastest time of the day to help lead the Wildcats to the Division III championship.
Afterward, it seemed like Lee was a mini-celebrity.
“No, not really,” Lee said with a laugh during an interview.
It was for good reason Lee was the center of attention. She nearly cracked the 19-minute mark, an accomplishment rarely seen at a division meet.
“At the end I tried to kick it, but I just couldn’t get it this year,” Lee said.
Only three runners have cracked 19 minutes at a Sunken Meadow division meet in the past six years. Lee also became the first Shoreham girl to win the championship race since 2006 when Kathryn Sheehan won it as a junior. Shortly after the race, it was hard to even notice Lee had just ran 5,000-kilometers.
“I actually don’t feel that tired,” she said. “I think it’s just more the excitement is kicking in.”
Lee made an immediate impact on the varsity last year as an eighth grader. She finished seventh in the championship race and was one of only two eighth-graders in the top 40. This season, Lee quickly emerged as the top runner in the county and had posted the fastest time coming into Tuesday’s race.
On this day, she torched her best time of the year by nearly 35 seconds.
“Last year it was really no pressure, until the end of the season, when I realized this could be my sport and I could be good at this,” Lee said. “This year I really wanted to have a great season and I worked really hard. I guess it paid off.”
Lee went out hard, pulling ahead of the pack from the opening gun. She maintained that lead throughout, with some pressure from behind by Katie Murphy of Hauppauge. Murphy took second in 19:17.03.
The division championships start off with the team championship race, which is made up of the top two teams in each league plus four wild cards. The results of that race are than divided into the four separate divisions. The Wildcats were the winners of Division III. The remaining teams run in a team qualifier race.
The Wildcats got strong performances from the next four runners to edge out defending champion Miller Place for the title. Sophomore Alexandra Hays ran 19:53.42, followed by junior Kaitlyn Ohrtman in 19:55.86 and eighth-grader Francesca Lilly in 20:33.62. Sophomore Amanda Dwyer rounded out the top five in 21:43.46.
“It’s a good team,” said Shoreham coach Paul Koretzki. “Very talented, very good speed.”
McGann-Mercy earned a spot in the championship race after a 4-1 dual meet record to become co-champions of League VII. Junior Meg Tuthill, a state qualifier last year, finished third in Division IV with a personal best time of 20:44.85. Mercy finished fourth in the division. Sophomores Devyn O’Brien (22:10.59) and Kaitlyn Butterfield (22:11.41) were the next two finishers for Mercy.
Riverhead raced in the team qualifier race and finished first among Division II teams. The future is undoubtedly bright for the Blue Waves after three seventh-graders and an eighth-grader finished in the top six. Seventh-grader Megan Kielbasa was the top Riverhead runner, finishing in 20:42.65. Junior Megan Carrick ran 22:09.93 and seventh-grader Delu Rizzo ran 22:44.64.