It may have seemed like an odd sight.
At the start of the 3,000-meter race, the first event of Sunday’s small school county championship, one runner was noticeably missing from the field. Katherine Lee, the Shoreham-Wading River sophomore who competed in the 3,000 at the state championships in both the indoor and outdoor seasons a year ago, was not among the runners on the track at Suffolk Community College in Brentwood.
Lee’s absence in her marquee event, a strategy to give the Wildcats the best chance to tally points toward the team score, wouldn’t have been possible if not for the talent of her teammates. The Wildcats are so deep with distance runners, having them all in one event only limits the team’s ability to score points.
So Lee stepped aside, learning on Friday that she would instead run the 600 — an event she’s rarely ever competed in.
The strategy nearly worked to perfection.
Junior Alexandra Hays stepped up to win the 3,000 in 10 minutes 40.74 seconds, her first ever county title. Teammate Kaitlyn Ohrtman, a senior, placed fourth in 10:58.65 as the Wildcats grabbed 14 points in the event even without Lee.
As for Lee, a change from the norm didn’t prevent her from bringing home a title. She posted the top time in the 600 — a testament to her talent and versatility. Lee finished the race in 1:37.06 and did so from the second-t0-last heat. Because the 600 is an event she doesn’t normally race, she didn’t have a good enough time to be seeded in the final heat.
Lee found herself in the unusual position after winning her heat of waiting to watch the final group of runners, one eye on the track, another on the scoreboard, to see if it would hold up.
It did. Paige Keefer of West Babylon ran 1:38.38 in the final heat to finish second overall.
The Wildcats led the team scoring throughout the competition until the very last event. Defending champion Huntington won the 4 x 200, the final event, to grab 10 points to surpass Shoreham. The Blue Devils finished with 49 points while the Wildcats were second with 41.
It was the second straight year the Wildcats were runner-ups in the county meet.
One of the premier events Sunday was the 1,500, which featured the Bishop McGann-Mercy duo of senior Meg Tuthill and junior Kaitlyn Butterfield in addition to Lee, Ohrtman and Hays.
It was a crowded field, and made for an unusual start when none of the top runners appeared to want to set the pace. The result was a much slower than normal first 400 meters, before Tuthill ultimately took charge. In her only event of the night, Tuthill never looked back after grabbing the lead and won the event in 4:52.49. A late surge from Lee propelled her past Buttefield for second. Lee finished in 4:54.35 while Butterfield was third in a personal best time of 4:54.51.
Ohrtman finished fourth in 4:55.99 and Hays was sixth in 5:02.68.
Lee, Hays and Ohrtman teamed up with freshman Francesca Lilly in the 4 x 800 and the group finished fourth in 10:15.99.
McGann-Mercy junior Siobhan Merrill finished in a three-way tie for sixth in the high jump after clearing 4 feet 8 inches. She also ran the 300-dash and posted her best time of 45.99.
At the boys small school championship, which was held prior to the girls meet, Mercy senior Dale Kelly finished third in the 300 in 36.27.
Photo Caption: Shoreham-Wading River junior Alexandra Hays, right, and senior Kaitlyn Ohrtman race in the 3,000 Sunday. (Credit: Bill Landon)