It was a championship 20 years in the making.
For the first time since 1998, the Riverhead High School girls cross-country team has been crowned a league champion. The Blue Waves capped a perfect 5-0 dual-meet season Tuesday with a 17-43 League III win over Northport at Sunken Meadow State Park.
“We were definitely all very happy, but we also weren’t that surprised, either,” Riverhead’s Megan Kielbasa said. “We knew what we were capable of.”
The Blue Waves knew they had a chance to make an impact in League III this year, especially with Bay Shore being bumped up to League II. It was Bay Shore that was responsible for Riverhead’s only two losses in successive 5-1 seasons the last two years.
“They gave us a sense of we belong in the mix in League III,” coach Justin Cobis said. “When they left, we knew that it was our league to take.”
Riverhead did just that, with juniors Christina Yakaboski and Kielbasa at the front of the pack.
Yakaboski, an All-County runner last year and the 2017 team MVP, won every dual-meet race this season. Cobis said Yakaboski will be the League III Runner of the Year.
“She’s such a cognitive runner,” Cobis said. “She’s always thinking about how to improve and she’s also turned into a quiet, steady leader.”
And Kielbasa, a four-time All-County runner in her fifth year on the team, has been right behind her.
Cobis said not only are those two the top runners in League III, but Riverhead might have four of the league’s top seven runners. Other League III teams can boast about having strong runners, but Riverhead has depth as well — and an admirable work ethic.
Complacency can be a coach’s worst fear. It’s something Cobis hasn’t had to worry about, though.
“That has not been the case,” he said. “They’ve been very focused on improving and moving forward and getting better, not only individually but also as a team.”
In the win over Northport, Yakaboski was first to complete the 2.8-mile course in 17 minutes and 35 seconds. Kielbasa was second in 18:31. Riverhead then took the third, fifth and sixth places through Natalia Ruszkowski (19:31), Kristina Deraveniere (19:50) and Emma Conroy (20:05).
The team also has up-and-coming runners like sophomores Linda Pomiranceva and Madison Stromski, the League III Rookie of the Year in 2017.
“All the statistics are online,” Cobis said. “You can see who can run what times. We knew that if we did the right thing and executed our plan, that we would probably have no problems in taking the league championship this year.”
Yakaboski, a former soccer player who has committed herself to cross country, said, “It’s been a goal of ours since the summer.”
Yakaboski said she wants to clock a sub-19:00 time for five kilometers and qualify for the state meet that will be contested Nov. 10 at Sunken Meadow State Park. Before then there will be the division championships Oct. 23 at Sunken Meadow. Cobis believes Riverhead is one of the favorites entering that meet.
“We’re going to go for the division championship, too, so we’re setting higher goals,” said Kielbasa.
In 1998, Bernice Brown and Brian Meindl co-coached a Riverhead team to the League VI title with runners like Jackie Warner, Jessica Wells and Karen Ceberek.
Twenty years ago, Cobis was a freshman backup quarterback in football for Riverhead and none of the current Blue Waves were even alive. It was time that Riverhead made an addition to its trophy case.
“Honestly, it’s not surprising because we really put in all the miles,” Kielbasa said. “Each and every one of us have worked very hard to achieve this.”
It’s a good group. Riverhead’s best in 20 years, at least.
Photo caption: The Riverhead Blue Waves completed the dual-meet season as League III’s top team, going 5-0 for its first league championship since 1998. (Credit: courtesy photo)