The sun was out, the pollen count was down and Eric Cunha’s bright mood matched the conditions.
As compared to the first day of the Section XI boys track and field division championships two days earlier, which featured driving rain and chilly temperatures, Wednesday was a treat. No rain. Not too hot. Not too cold.
Cunha, who had to fight allergies as well the conditions on the first day, was clearly feeling much better Wednesday.
“The rain dropped all the pollen on the [ground], so there’s no pollen floating around,” the Riverhead senior said. “I was able to breathe more. I was able to get deep breaths and just run my own race.”
Despite what he called “ideal” weather, Cunha didn’t secure the school record in the 1,600 meters that he was looking for, but he did use a speed burst down the stretch to claim second place in a respectable time in the Division II race at Comsewogue High School.
In a tight finish that saw the first four runners cross the line within one second of each other, the top-seeded Cunha was clocked in 4 minutes, 24.77 seconds, which is four seconds off his personal record. He was 73/100ths of a second behind Smithtown West junior Nicholas Cipolla. Right behind Cunha were Smithtown East senior Marius Sidlauskas (4:24.96) and Smithtown West sophomore Nicholas Muellers (4:24.99).
“I’m happy that I was able to get a decent time for the mile,” said Cunha, who was third in the 800 in 2:01.32 on Monday. “I still have a little bit more work to put in for the next week and a half for state quals, but it’s a nice benchmark to have.”
Cunha said he may have conserved a little more energy than he needed to on the third lap. “I trust my training, but I feel like I should have trusted it a little more on that third lap,” he said. “I wanted to leave it all out there with 200 [meters] left, and I realized I had a little bit more than I thought. So I just kind of kicked into action and I finished strong.”
Riverhead sophomore Lyriy Deny cleared 11 feet to finish in a tie for second place with Smithtown West senior Cooper Schiavo in the pole vault. West Islip junior Hunter Gibbons won with a height of 11-6.
Shoreham-Wading River had a pair of third-place finishers in Division III — Ricky Casazza and Sebastian Rodriguez.
Casazza, a high jumper, cleared 6-2. The 5-11 junior failed on his three attempts at 6-4, which would have equaled the personal record he registered in the first meet of the season.
“Overall I would say it was a good day, but I was hoping for more,” Casazza said. “I had my eye on 6-4.”
What went wrong at 6-4?
“I’m not really sure,” he answered. “I think if I did what I did on my 6-2 jump and 6-foot jump, it would have been a clear.”
With the bar set at 6-1, Casazza missed on his first two attempts before making a clutch clear on the third try. “It was a lot of relief,” he said.
Finishing ahead of Casazza were Stony Brook senior Jyles Etienne (6-6) and Southampton senior Nakia Williams (6-4).
Rodriguez, a senior, posted a personal-record time of 58.20 seconds, which was good enough for third place in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. He followed two Amityville seniors, Brandon Gilpin (57.11) and Alijah Benymon (57.99).
“I felt good about pr-ing,” Rodriguez said. “I haven’t won, but it’s still a win in my books.”
Shoreham sophomore Eric DiLisio finished fifth in the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 11:05.77.
Photo caption: Riverhead senior Eric Cunha took second place in the Division II 1,600 meters in 4 minutes, 24.77 seconds at Comsewogue High School. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)