Shoreham-Wading River girls cross-country coach Paul Koretzki made a significant find at a Thanksgiving Day road race two years ago. Her name is Olivia Pesso, a sixth-grader at the time.
“As a sixth-grader, she ran 20:40 over my 5K course, and that’s a tough course, but it’s roads,” he recalled.
The first thing Koretzki had to do afterward was find out if Pesso lived in the part of Wading River that is within the Shoreham-Wading River Central School District or Riverhead’s district. When he discovered that she was in the SWR school system, it made his day. He knew he had a good runner coming up through the ranks.
“She works hard,” Koretzki said. “She really does. And she’s very talented.”
Pesso demonstrated that Thursday with her performance in the Section XI division championships at Sunken Meadow State Park. She ran the 3.1-mile distance in her best time on the course, 21:04.4, leading SWR to the Division 4 championship. The Wildcats totaled 35 points, well ahead of second-place Babylon (53), with an average time of 22:23.28 from their seven runners.
William Floyd’s Zariel Macchia won the girls championship race in 18:52.4 and Elwood/John Glenn’s Emily LaMena was the top Division 4 finisher in 20:21.7.
“I was very, very nervous,” said Pesso, who finished fifth in the division. “It’s kind of like a stressful race, but like once you start running, it’s all good. And then at the end, you see the finish line and you’re like, ‘Yeah.’ ”
Pesso has been SWR’s No. 2 runner this season. The Wildcats’ regular No. 1 runner, freshman Emma Granshaw, was seventh in the division in 21:45.3 despite running with a cold, said Koretzki. Koretzki said that was Granshaw’s best time at Sunken Meadow, “but Pesso is ready to go.”
The rest of the Wildcats were Maddie-Lynn McKiernan (ninth in the division in 22:25.8), Anna Minetti (11th in 22:44.7), Madison Zelin (16th in 23:56.2), Caroline D’Andrea (24th in 25:22.6) and Emily Cook (28th in 27:28.6).
“I was very happy with what I did,” Pesso said. “I think I pushed myself more and next time I’ll try to push myself even harder.”
The Section XI Championships will be held Nov. 5 at Sunken Meadow.
Pesso, 13, the youngest girls on SWR’s team, is in her second year on the squad. She has already made a lot of friends in the sport, and was congratulated by runners from other schools after the race.
“I do soccer and, you know, it can get brutal out there, but cross country is just kind of like everyone’s so nice,” she said.
The Wildcats were the League VII champions this season with a 4-0 record. “Kind of unexpected because Bayport had everybody back,” said Koretzki.
What Pesso likes best about cross country is “feeling the breeze in your face, just running, getting into shape. It’s so good.”
It was mentioned to Pesso that she seems to already be making a name for herself. She said: “You know, sometimes it stinks because you don’t get your like expectation of a time, but you know, you just tell yourself, you know, ‘I’m gonna work harder, I’m going to train harder. I’m going to go for it.’ ”