Under ordinary circumstances, in another year, this Riverhead High School girls cross-country team would have been seen as a sure bet for a league championship. Coach Justin Cobis said it’s the best team he has had, hands down, with three returning All-County runners, nice depth and some good up-and-coming young runners.
The 6-0 Suffolk County League III champions from last year didn’t lose much and, in Cobis’ words, return “the heart and soul of our team.”
Sounds like championship stuff, no?
“You would think, yes, but … it’s just a very, very stacked league,” Cobis said of League II, where the Blue Waves have been placed. “It’s like a gauntlet.”
It’s a good thing Riverhead has all that talent. The Blue Waves are going to need it in League II, which Cobis said is “by far” the most competitive league on Long Island. It includes Ward Melville, which sent its team to the state meet last year, Sachem East and Bay Shore (6-0), the defending league champion.
“Really there isn’t one team in this league that couldn’t go upstate as the Class A representative,” said Cobis, who noted that five League II teams were ranked among the top 20 in New York State last year. “That shows you how ridiculous the league is.”
Not that Riverhead is a slouch. Far from it.
The Blue Waves have senior Megan Kielbasa, senior Christina Yakaboski and junior Linda Pomiranceva, all of whom were All-County selections last year. Kielbasa, in her sixth varsity season, made All-County five years in a row. “She’s kind of been the competitive heart of our program the last six years,” said Cobis.
Yakaboski missed qualifying for the state meet last year by one place and a mere 1.86 seconds. In the Section XI Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park, she finished seventh in Class A in 19 minutes, 57.47 seconds.
Kristina DeRaveniere, Emma Conroy and Natalia Ruszkowski are returning seniors and junior Madison Stromski is also back.
Riverhead has a future, too, with eighth-graders Jena Binkis and Megan Kenny and freshman Lauren Matyka. Senior Madison Kelly, a first-time cross-country runner, has been doing well, said Cobis.
“There are five, six, seven girls who are going to have an impact on some of these meets,” Cobis said. “We finally have a team that can compete with the best teams in the county.”
Shoreham-Wading River senior Nicole Garcia hardly has a typical background for a cross-country runner. She was a sprinter. Sprinters typically don’t gravitate to long-distance running, and vice versa, but Garcia has successfully made the conversion. She’s a two-time All-County runner and SWR’s best runner this year. She came in seventh at the Section XI Championships in 20:26.06.
“She’s got some ability,” coach Paul Koretzki said. “She’s a good worker. She works hard every day.”
Koretzki said SWR (5-1) essentially has the same team as it did last year, with the exception of the absence of Lexi Smith, who is now running for Suffolk County Community College.
Emily Cook, a sophomore who has been dealing with a nagging ankle problem, is among the team’s top runners along with junior Eleanora Undrus, junior India McKay, freshman Colleen Ohrtman and senior captain Isadora Petretti.
Koretzki, who is in his 39th year coaching the team, said, “If we get everybody on the field and we’re sort of healthy, we can win.”
Photo caption: Riverhead senior Megan Kielbasa is a five-time All-County runner. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)