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Cross Country: Riverhead runs to division title

Some members of the Riverhead High School girls cross-country team weren’t feeling their best, either because of illness or injury. But here’s something that made the Blue Waves feel a whole lot better: a division championship.

Riverhead, led by juniors Christina Yakaboski and Megan Kielbasa, ran to the title in the Section XI Division Championships Tuesday at Sunken Meadow State Park. The Blue Waves topped second place Eastport-South Manor by nine points for the Division II title.

Every place counted.

“We knew it was going to be close,” Yakaboski said. “It was going to be a good battle.”

Riverhead coach Justin Cobis said: “I couldn’t be more proud of the girls. It was not an easy thing for them to do. They weren’t feeling their best today but they gritted it out and collectively worked together to accomplish this goal.”

The Blue Waves, coming off a strong showing at the Brown Invitational Saturday, saw Yakaboski lead the way. She obliterated her previous best time on the 3.1-mile Sunken Meadow course by 21 seconds. Her time of 19:45.18 brought her seventh place overall. (Mount Sinai junior Sarah Connelly was first in 18:49.42).

Yakaboski said she had spoken beforehand to former Riverhead standout Ellen Dougherty, who had given her some tips. “She just gave me a lot of great advice and I tried to follow it today and tried to be mentally tough and it worked out,” she said. “I felt very strong and confident.”

Yakaboski and Kielbasa (24th in 20:46.40) were the top two Division II runners, finishing ahead of ESM’s first finisher, senior Marcie Hogan (26th in 20:53.11).

A critical performance was turned in by Riverhead sophomore Linda Pomiranceva, who came in 45th in 21:32.69, three slots ahead of ESM senior Sierra Schlendor (21:42.33).

“Having Megan and Christina kind of tag team the first two spots gives us an amazing start,” Cobis said. “Linda Pomiranceva wasn’t having a great day. She still gutted out in (21:32.69), which is a phenomenal time for most people on a great day.”

That grit was vital.

“If she finishes five spots back, we’re not division champions,” said Cobis.

The other finishers for Riverhead were Kristina Deraveniere (63rd in 22:14.14), Natalia Ruszkowski (80th in 22:48.42), Emma Conroy (91st in 23:11.22) and Madison Stromski (95th in 23:32.64).

“I knew that everyone was just going to try their best and they were going to do their best and whatever happened happened,” Yakaboski said. “I knew they were going to work hard no matter what, and some of them were feeling sick or a little bit injured and they still worked so hard so I’m so proud of them for that.”

Nicole Garcia was the first Shoreham-Wading River finisher. The junior came in 16th in 20:19.82, her best time on the course. She sliced about 31 seconds off her previous fastest time.

“I’m extremely happy,” she said. “We’ve been doing a lot of speed workouts here on the hills.”

Even so, she said, Sunken Meadow’s famed Cardiac Hill is still “literally torture.”

SWR’s Alexandra Smith was 25th in 20:50.46. The Wildcats also ran Colleen Ohrtman (81st in 22:50.42). Isadora Petretti (110th in 24:04.42), Emily Cook (117th in 24:18.81) and India McKay (121st in 24:35.52).

Riverhead can check this achievement off its list of goals for this year, along with its first league championship in 20 years.

“We definitely have the depth and everyone wants to improve,” Yakaboski said. “Everyone’s been working so hard, and we all knew that being division champions is big.”

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Photo caption: Christina Yakaboski, the first Riverhead finisher, heads to the finish line at Sunken Meadow State Park. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)