Unlike most years when the goal for Long Island’s top high school cross-country runners is to go upstate, the aim this year is to remain downstate, on the island.
The eyes of the New York State cross-country community will be focused on Sunken Meadow State Park on Nov. 10. Almost 10 years to the day since they were last run on Long Island, the state boys and girls championships will return to the hilly 3.1-mile course in Kings Park.
“We have a course that is known as a very difficult course,” Riverhead girls coach Justin Cobis said. “I think we want to defend that course and show the rest of the state that downstate runners are just as strong. I think Section XI can show its stuff.”
Riverhead juniors Christina Yakaboski and Megan Kielbasa would like to be among those Long Islanders defending their turf that day. Both ran in last year’s state qualifying meet at Sunken Meadow. Yakaboski was 15th in the Class A race in 21 minutes, 1.93 seconds and Kielbasa was 24th in 21:30.63.
Yakaboski, a former soccer player who took up cross country for the first time last year, has committed herself to the sport.
“I know her goal is to keep stepping up and improving,” Cobis said of the All-County runner and 2017 team MVP. “For the first time in her running career, she has spent the summer dedicated to running and training. She really focused this summer. She put in about 300 miles from June to August.”
Kielbasa, a four-time All-County runner, was the Riverhead News-Review’s Female Athlete of the Year for Riverhead for 2017-18.
“Her sense of competition on race day is extremely up there,” Cobis said. “She’s always been a phenomenal race-day runner. She’s also been extremely tough.”
And then there are a pair of sophomores, Linda Pomiranceva and Madison Stromski. Pomiranceva was one of the top five freshmen in Suffolk County last year, Cobis said, and Stromski was the League III Rookie of the Year.
Two juniors, Natalia Ruszkowski and Kristina Deraveniere, could also be among the team’s scorers.
Riverhead has gone 5-1 the last years in League III, both of those losses coming to Bay Shore. But Bay Shore has been bumped up to League II. “It opens up a big opportunity for us to step up in the league,” said Cobis, who believes this to be the strongest team in his five years as Riverhead’s coach.
“It’s like league championship or bust has been our mantra for the summer,” he said. “We’re going to measure our success, not how we run against other teams, but how we run against ourselves.”
For the first time in seven years, Shoreham-Wading River (5-2) enters a cross-country season without the services of the great Katherine Lee. Lee is now running for Georgetown University, but all is not lost for SWR. Far from it.
SWR has three All-County runners in its stable, and the Wildcats are expected to chase Mount Sinai in league, division and county competition.
League VI has produced the overall county champion the last six years (SWR three times, Miller Place twice and Mount Sinai last year).
“I’d like to see us give Mount Sinai a really good run for their money,” said coach Paul Koretzki.
Alexandra Smith will help. The senior was 41st among 125 Class B finishers in 21:54.4 in her second trip to the state meet. In the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow, she was seventh in 20:47.88.
“She’s in very good shape,” Koretzki said. “She’s running hard. Her training this summer was good. She looks like she’s going to have a good year.”
Junior Nicole Garcia and freshman Emily Cook are All-County runners as well. Also back are senior captain Danielle Ohrtmann and sophomore India McKay.
“I think we’re pretty good,” Koretzki said. “I think we’re going to be right behind Mount Sinai, and Mount Sinai’s going to be number one in the county.”
Photo caption: Riverhead junior Christina Yakaboski was an All-County runner and team MVP last year. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)