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Boys Cross Country: Riverhead’s two Ryans push the pace

They’re Ryan and Ryan.

No, it’s not a law firm, just Riverhead High School’s top two cross-country runners.

The 6-foot-3 Ryan Carrick and 6-1 Ryan Keane have the ideal physiques for cross country. Both are tall and lean, with long-legged strides that eat up ground underneath them.

And the two seniors have both been team leaders, on the course and off.

In the process, the two Ryans have been making each other — not to mention their teammates — better and faster through their efforts.

“Your team is the most important thing,” said Carrick, following in the footsteps of the graduated Luke Coulter and Eric Cunha as Riverhead’s top runner. “Nobody understands that. It’s such an individual sport, but you know, if I didn’t have Ryan, if I didn’t have the guys, it’s so hard to stay motivated. It’s such a rigorous sport where you’re constantly beat down by negative things that it’s nice to have teammates to keep bringing you up, to keep pushing you.”

Carrick is striving to finish his high school cross-country career in what would be his first state meet Nov. 8 at Sunken Meadow State Park. Last year he failed to qualify, coming in 28th in Class A in the state qualifier in 18 minutes, 4.16 seconds on an unseasonably warm afternoon. Earlier in the season, he was third in Division III in the division championships on the same 3.1-mile course in 17:35.31.

This year Carrick has finished first in all of Riverhead’s League III races, except for one in which he took second.

“Ryan has performed well all season,” coach Matt Yakaboski said. “He’s lean and mean on the course. … He’s really developed as a leader, taking the team under his wing.”

Carrick himself is pushed by the other Ryan, Keane. They have known each other since they were in elementary school and are friends outside of cross country and track and field. The symbiotic relationship has benefitted both of them in practices.

“It’s just crazy,” Keane said. “We go on these runs and, you know, Ryan Carrick’s faster than me, and I try to use that to my advantage. I try to keep up with him until my body just doesn’t allow me to do that any more, and I’ve noticed that it will yield good benefits when it comes race time.”

Carrick said Keane “helps me a lot, and we’re really just on the same page about a lot of things. … He’s always there to motivate.”

After Carrick and Keane, Riverhead, which finished the league season with a 2-4 record, has three sophomores — Ben Catanzaro, Gabe Burns and Matt Yakaboski, the coach’s son. The next runners on the rung are seniors Michael Cunningham and Eoin McElhinney.

So, it’s easy to see the great change in store for the team next year, when it will return only three of its top seven runners.

“It’s going to be a big hit,” said Matt Yakaboski.

Keane, however, believes the younger runners will develop fine for next season. “There’s been a lot of friendly competition, all the kids, and we’ve seen it benefit them significantly,” he said. “They’re making each other faster. [It’s] a very young team, so there’s a lot of prospects and we’re hoping that when we leave, you know, we can kind of rub off on them. They could do what we did, and hopefully better.”

As Keane spoke, Carrick was encouraging teammates running around the track during a practice.

It would seem that Carrick has plenty of self-motivation — the opportunity to run in a rare state meet on Long Island. The last time the state meet came to Long Island, Sunken Meadow hosted it 10 years ago.

“I think I’m definitely like a different cross-country runner, by far, because last year, right when the season started, right when the school year started, we started cutting back the miles,” Carrick said. “We were in the middle of the season. But this year we haven’t cut back the miles yet. We’re still running long runs. We’re still really putting in the work.”

The Ryans estimate they’re running 40 to 45 miles per week.

“My end goal is the state meet,” Carrick said. “That is exactly what I’m thinking about. That would mean a ton to me.”

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Photo caption: Riverhead seniors Ryan Carrick (left) and Ryan Keane during a break in practice last week. (Credit: Bob Liepa)