Back when Stephanie Marie Berkeley was an eighth-grader in middle school, she followed her friends to the high jump area. She recalled, “All my friends did it, so I was like, ‘Let me hop out on the bandwagon.’ ”
So, Berkeley gave the high jump a try and immediately took to the event. Now the high jump is a part of her.
“I love it, honestly,” the Riverhead High School junior said. “This is my life. This is my passion. This is what I want to do.”
Berkeley had even more reason to love the high jump Sunday when she cleared 4 feet and 11 inches in a crossover girls winter track meet to finish in a tie for first place with Miller Place sophomore Angie Guevara at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.
Berkeley said, “Every single time I come to a meet, I’m just like, ‘I’m going to try to do my best’ — and first place comes out of it.”
Riverhead coach Justin Cobis said: “She is starting off the indoor season where she ended the outdoor season. She’s going to keep going.”
Another Riverhead senior, Julia Divan, tied for fifth with Northport senior Margaret Van Laer. They both cleared the bar at 4-8.
Berkeley’s 4-11 in her third meet of the year represents a season-best height. It’s also not far off her personal record of 5-0.
“I feel really good, honestly,” she said, beaming with delight. “This is great.”
Berkeley recalled when she was a freshman she high jumped something like 4-0. “Four-six, that seemed like light years away,” she said.
The 5-8 Berkeley said she typically competes against high jumpers who are taller than her. That can be intimidating, but she knows technique and work ethic are what count. She knows high jumpers are made, not born.
“Practice, practice, practice,” she said. “All it takes is practice and believing in yourself.”
Cobis gives Berkeley high marks for her attitude and demeanor. He said, “She’s always smiling.”
These foes are friends. Miller Place junior Danelle Rose led the pack and, for much of her 1,000-meter heat, had a competitor off her right shoulder. Some runners might have been uncomfortable with that, but not Rose. Not in this instance anyway.
That’s because the runner pushing her the whole way was Riverhead junior Christina Yakaboski. “I knew it was her, so I was fine with it,” said Rose.
And that’s because the two are not only competitors, but also friends and occasional training partners. They help make each other faster.
“They run together and they train together,” Justin Cobis said, adding, “In this sport, there’s such a camaraderie between teams and runners.”
They certainly helped each other Sunday, as Rose took first place in a personal-record time of 3 minutes and 5.71 seconds. Yakaboski, who was a tight second, 6/100ths of a second behind Rose, came within a second of clocking a pr herself.
“That was fun,” a smiling Yakaboski said afterward. “I knew that I had to stay strong and definitely try to kick.”
Two other Riverheaders finished among the top 10. Emma Conroy was sixth in 3:21.82 and Megan Kielbasa was 10th in 3:24.15.
It was Yakaboski’s first 1,000 race of the indoor season — an encouraging beginning.
“It makes you really confident for the future,” she said. “I did not think I was going to be so close to a pr.”
Riverheaders did well in other events: Enaria Suazo (15-4 1/2) and Miasa Pittman (15-2 1/2) were second and third in the long jump. The 4×800 relay team of Kristina Deraveniere, Conroy, Kielbasa and Yakaboski was second in 10:22.47. Suazo (7.76) was third in the 55-meter dash and Pittman (7.81) was fifth. Pittman took third in the 300 in 44.57. In the 600, Deraveniere was fourth in 1:45.20 and Ava Sunwalt was seventh in 1:47.78. Riverhead’s 4×400 relay team was fourth in 4:41.65. Aleeyah George threw the shot put 27-1 1/4 to finish seventh. Shannon O’Brien was seventh in the 1,500 race walk in 9:09.27.
Rose and Yakaboski congratulated each other after their close finish in the 1,000. It wasn’t until the results were flashed on the scoreboard that they knew for sure who had won.
“She’s just an amazing person and runner,” Yakaboski said admiringly of Rose.
Rose later returned the compliment in a separate interview.
“She’s a great runner,” Rose said of Yakaboski. “She’s one of the top runners in the county.”
Photo caption: Riverhead junior Stephanie Marie Berkeley tied for first place in the high jump Sunday, clearing 4 feet and 11 inches. (Credit: Bob Liepa)