09/10/13 9:00pm
09/10/2013 9:00 PM
ROBERT O'ROURK FILE PHOTO | Southold junior Jon Rempe leads a deep team into the 2013 season.

ROBERT O’ROURK FILE PHOTO | Southold junior Jon Rempe leads a deep team into the 2013 season.

PREVIEW

Cross country is a sport that incorporates a team concept along with the individual aspect. In order to emphasize the team angle, the Southold boys team has adopted a motto for this season: “We run as one.”

It’s something coach Karl Himmelmann wants his runners to keep in mind when they are training or competing in a meet.

“Running can seem like a pretty solitary, isolated sport because you’re off by yourself, but it’s a team effort,” he said. “We run as a team.”

And the First Settlers hope to win as a team this season. They certainly have the ingredients.

Southold (4-2 last season) is coming off back-to-back Suffolk County Class D championships and is seen as a contender for the League VIII title this year. Its top runner, junior Jon Rempe, returns to a deep team along with freshman Owen Klipstein, junior Chris Buono and junior Michael Cosmadelis. Rempe and Klipstein were all-league runners last year. Rempe finished ninth in the Division IV team qualifier in the Section XI division championships at Sunken Meadow State Park last year. His time on the 3.1-mile course was 18 minutes 38.10 seconds.

“Jon Rempe has consistently been my top runner, but the other boys … have also been in that top mix as well,” said Himmelmann.

Like all cross-country coaches, it seems, injuries are a concern for Himmelmann, who knows that an injury to a key runner can knock a team off course. That is why he encourages his athletes to train smart, and has set up a training schedule to bring them along gradually. The idea is to strengthen muscles and joints for the season in the hope that it will help avoid pulled muscles and foot injuries.

But the First Settlers have already been hit by an injury. Gus Rymer, a junior who was the second Southold runner to reach the finish line in the divisional meet in 19:47.40, will miss the start of the season with a foot injury.

In the meantime, some newcomers to the team should help absorb his absence as well as the loss to graduation of four-year runner Jon Tomici and James Shine. Two juniors, Jeremy Rempe (Jon’s twin brother) and Gregory Quist, are new additions. So are five other first-year runners: sophomore Gage Bennett, sophomore Michael Gensler, freshman Joe Saporita, freshman Joe Tsoumpelis and senior Dan Stahl.

“A lot of these boys have been running all summer long,” said Himmelmann. He added: “They are all looking very strong. They’re looking fast.”

Another positive development for the cross-country program in Southold is the addition of junior high school boys and girls teams, both coached by John Palmeri. “That’s going to definitely help our program down the road,” said Himmelmann, who hasn’t had the benefit of junior high teams to draw from during his four years as the coach of Southold’s boys and girls varsity squads.

Meanwhile, the varsity team is eyeing a possible threepeat with county championships.

“I think we have a good shot,” Himmelmann said. “I think if the boys continue to progress, I think we have a legitimate shot.”

The sight of a small army of high school runners hopping off a team bus may not exactly be common, but it might be something someone would expect to see from a big school like St. Anthony’s or Sachem East. But tiny, little Mattituck?

“Last year we got a lot of looks,” said coach Julie Milliman, whose team started last season with 46 runners and finished with 40.

This year the number has dropped a little to 30, which is still a large size for a cross-country team, no less a cross-country team from a small school.

“We have a good mix,” Milliman said. “They push each other to be competitive, and with 30 kids you’re always going to have a friend.”

Of that 30, about 26 are returning runners and 13 are seniors.

Coming off a two-win, rebuilding season, the Tuckers expect to be more competitive this year. They are counting on veteran runners like senior Adam Hicks, sophomore Jack Dufton, sophomore Eddie Dowling, freshman Matt Heffernan, senior Bobby Becker, senior Kevin Schwartz, senior Chris Mehalakes and sophomore Lucas Webb. Hicks recorded a time of 19:21.80 that brought him 19th place in the division championships at Sunken Meadow.

“I do know that if some of these kids run to their potential, we’re going to fare much better than we did last year,” said Milliman, who is in her fourth year as the team’s coach. “They just have a more focused attitude, and I think they’re hungry for the prs.”

In Milliman’s first year, Mattituck had 12 runners, and that number grew to around 20 in her second year.

“It’s taken off,” she said. “As long as they have [good] attitudes … and they’re good kids, I’ll take as many as want to come out.”

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10/23/12 4:30pm
10/23/2012 4:30 PM

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Southold sophomore Jon Rempe was the ninth-place finisher in the Division IV team qualifier.

DIVISION CHAMPIONSHIPS

The mere mention of Sunken Meadow State Park and its famed Cardiac Hill is enough to make more than a few cross-country runners shudder. Not Jon Rempe, though. The Southold High School sophomore not only doesn’t mind running the famed course, but he welcomes the challenge.

“I like it better than Indian Island” County Park, Rempe said. “There’s nothing bad about it. The hills help me out.”

And the competition Rempe faced in the Division IV team qualifier in the Section XI division championships at Sunken Meadow State Park on Tuesday didn’t hurt, either. “It makes you push faster,” he said.

Rempe pushed himself to a ninth-place finish. His time from the 5,000-meter run was 18 minutes 38.10 seconds.

“It wasn’t what I had hoped, but I guess it worked out pretty good,” he said.

Another sophomore, Nicholas Berglin of Hampton Bays, won the race in 18:02.10.

ROBERT O’ROURK PHOTO | Mattituck senior Anthony Howell posted a 13th-place finish with his fastest time ever at Sunken Meadow State Park: 19 minutes 0.50 seconds.

Mattituck senior Anthony Howell was four places behind Rempe, and for good reason. He said he was using Rempe as a target to follow.

Howell’s time of 19:00.50 was the best he had ever clocked on the course.

“It wasn’t the time I really wanted,” Howell said. “I was hoping for 18:45, but it was close enough, and I haven’t run this meet in a while, so it was satisfying.”

Since Mattituck lost its top runner, Marcos Perivolaris, to an ankle sprain, Howell has become the team’s new No. 1.

“He works hard and I’m proud of him,” Mattituck coach Julie Milliman said. “I really don’t know how much better he’s going to get, but he’s been getting better every race. He’s one of those guys who’s really never happy with his times, which is why he is always getting better.”

Mattituck junior Adam Hicks registered a time of 19:21.80 that was good for 19th place. The Tuckers who followed him were junior Jake Nolan (28th in 19:52.40), eighth-grader Matt Heffernan (29th in 19:54.10), freshman Jack Dufton (32nd in 20:00.90), junior Clay Davis (33rd in 20:03.00) and freshman Lucas Webb (38th in 20:13.60).

Gus Rhymer, a sophomore, was the second Southold runner to reach the finish line. He was 27th in 19:47.40. The other First Settlers who competed were eighth-grader Owen Klipstein (41st in 20:44.10), sophomore Christopher Buono (52nd in 22:24.60), junior Ian Toy (53rd in 22:27.30), freshman Ronan Guyer (54th in 22:32.90) and senior John Tomici (65th in 24:43.10).

Mattituck was 18th in the team scoring with 113 points. Southold was 27th with 173.

A light rain fell during the race, but the weather conditions were otherwise pleasant. Howell said the course was in good shape. As for those hills, he didn’t seem to mind them, either.

He said, “Sometimes you’re going downhill, and that gives you a break.”

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10/11/12 6:58pm
10/11/2012 6:58 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Adam Hicks of Mattituck holds off Mount Sinai’s Keegan Sabo near the finish line to grab 23rd place in a personal-best time of 18 minutes 28.56 seconds.

WESTHAMPTON BEACH INVITATIONAL

In cross country there are no shortcuts. Progress is made the old-fashioned way, by taking one stride after another and putting the miles in.

Perhaps no one knows that better than Adam Hicks and Jake Nolan. The two Mattituck High School juniors enjoyed the product of their labor on Thursday when they both clocked personal-best times in the Westhampton Beach Invitational.

“They did great,” Mattituck coach Julie Milliman said. “I’m not surprised because they work hard at practice.”

Hicks and Nolan were Mattituck’s first two finishers in the John Hanff boys varsity race at Indian Island County Park in Riverhead. Hicks completed the 3.1-mile course in 18 minutes 28.56 seconds, which left him in 23rd place.

“That just blew my mind,” said Hicks, who is in his third year on the team. “I feel really good about this.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck junior Jake Nolan ran his fastest time ever, 18 minutes 50.23 seconds, and was 33rd among 138 finishers.

Nolan kept Hicks within his sight, using him as a marker all the way to the finish. It must have helped because Nolan came in 33rd among the 138 finishers in a time of 18:50.23.

“I feel great,” Nolan said. He added: “I paced with Adam today. He’s good, and that helped a lot. I usually don’t start out that fast.”

Two other Tuckers, senior Anthony Howell (42nd in 19:00.02) and junior Clay Davis (50th in 19:37.29), also cracked the top 50. They were followed by teammates Ralph Pugliese (56th in 19:58.66), Chris Mehalakes (59th in 20:05.96) and Kevin Schwartz (60th in 20:06.70).

The crisp autumn weather and the sunny sky made for ideal running conditions, that surely suited Half Hollow Hills East junior Sean Grossman just fine. Grossman, running a 5:26.4 mile pace, won the race in 16:53.89, beating out the runner-up, East Hampton junior Adam Cebulski, by less than four seconds. Two Babylon seniors, Matthew Finelli (17:00.53) and Tyler McGarvey (17:04.25), followed after them.

Hills East won the team scoring with 51 points. Mattituck was seventh among the 10 competing teams with 192 points.

Mattituck’s two best runners this season have been Marcos Perivolaris and Howell. Perivolaris turned his ankle recently and didn’t run on Thursday. Howell ran, but he has been hampered by injury, said Milliman.

Two Mattituck ninth-graders, Jack Dufton and Lucas Webb, claimed the first two places in the freshman race, which was run over a distance of 1.8 miles. Dufton’s time was 11:18.38; Webb was timed in 11:21.63. Five Tuckers were among the top 10 in that race, with the others being Eddie Dowling (fifth in 12:13.26), Matt Heffernan (seventh in 12:22.40) and Charles Zaloom (10th in 12:39.24).

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09/12/12 11:00pm
09/12/2012 11:00 PM

GARRET MEADE FILE PHOTO | Southold sophomore Jonathan Rempe was the Suffolk County Class D champion last year.

Drama and excitement mixed for a thrilling finish to the Class D race in last year’s Section XI boys cross-country championships at Sunken Meadow State Park. The Southold team undoubtedly remembers it well because it was on that nippy November afternoon when its sixth runner, Matthew Reilly, made a difference in bringing his team a county championship.

The top five runners for each team score points based on their finish. In the event that teams are tied on points, the placement of their respective sixth runners is used as the tiebreaker. So, that is what it came down to when Southold and The Stony Brook School both found themselves with 28 points apiece. With the exception of a single Pierson runner, all of the top 12 Class D finishers were wearing Southold or Stony Brook uniforms.

Fortunately for Southold, though, Reilly’s 12th-place finish on the 3.1-mile course in 21 minutes 55.00 seconds was huge. He had beaten Stony Brook’s sixth finisher, Darryl Baker, by five places, and that’s how the First Settlers became county champions.

“That’s the thing that I impress upon the team,” Southold coach Karl Himmelmann said, “it’s not necessarily the boys who come in first, second or third place” who determine the outcome of a race.

By virtue of its county title, Southold’s top seven runners had the opportunity to run in the state meet at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School. Four of those runners are back, including all-league runner Jonathan Rempe. Rempe, a sophomore, was the Suffolk Class D champion last year in a time of 19:17.50 at Sunken Meadow’s notoriously hilly course. He finished 76th out of 120 Class D runners in the state meet.

“I definitely see good things from him this year,” Himmelmann said. “He’s been running all summer long.”

The other returning Southold runners who competed in the state meet are senior John Tomici, junior Ian Toy and senior Ryan Hanrahan.

Southold (3-3 in Suffolk County League VIII last year) has a deep corps of runners beyond the five who will score points in dual meets. A strong season is expected from sophomore Gus Rymer, junior Anthony Esposito and sophomore Chris Buono.

A key for Southold is the training its runners have done over the summer to prepare for the season. Offseason training is critical in cross country.

“I’ve definitely been seeing good things from them in practice over the last few weeks,” Himmelmann said. “We just look at their hard work and diligence. They’re putting in the miles.”

In fact, Himmelmann said it is the team’s commitment that he likes best. “They have a very strong sense of commitment that they want to be as fast as they can, and I’m seeing that in their practices every day,” he said.

Mattituck coach Julie Milliman was anticipating a big turnout for the first day of preseason practice, but even that didn’t fully prepare her for what she saw. When Milliman saw how many runners had come out for the team, she was taken aback.

“I was like, ‘We’re going to need another coach,’ ” she said.

The Tuckers added an assistant coach, Chris Robinson, to help Milliman oversee a varsity team with 40 runners. That’s right, 40!

Over half of them are returning runners.

“It looks like a football team,” Milliman said. “When you see them warming up on the line, you have to see it. I’ve never seen so many kids on a cross-country team.”

Last year’s team, which had close to 30 runners, performed quite well, going 5-1 and tying Port Jefferson and Center Moriches for first place in League VII.

“It was obviously a highlight of my short career,” said Milliman, who is in her third year as the team’s coach.

But the Tuckers lost their top two runners, Corey Zlatniski (Utica) and senior Casey Grathwohl, who both ran in the state meet last year. Zlatniski has graduated, and Grathwohl opted to play soccer this fall.

Despite all its runners, Mattituck can count only three seniors among them. Just who will emerge as the team’s top runners in 2012 remains to be seen.

Heading the cast of returners are senior Anthony Howell, sophomore Marcos Perivolaris and juniors Jake Nolan, Adam Hicks, Clay Davis, Ross Pugliese and Kevin Schwartz. Another junior, Connor Malone, is also in the mix.

“There’s plenty of runners to choose from,” said Milliman.

But with so many runners comes complications. Practices are more involved and a question has arisen as to how many buses will be needed to transport the Mattituck boys and girls teams to meets. The teams used to share one bus, which may no longer be enough.

“It’s tough to manage sometimes, but I think it’s good because they kind of push each other,” Milliman said. “There are so many kids involved in the program that it is already a success in itself.”

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11/04/11 6:49pm
11/04/2011 6:49 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Shoreham-Wading River senior John Lee (594) ran with the leaders after the start of the Class B race before winning his second straight sectional title.

To those who question whether cross country really is a team sport, we bring you the 2011 Section XI Championships.

It was the team aspect of cross country that came to the forefront when the No. 6 runners for both the Shoreham-Wading River and the Southold boys teams made the difference in bringing their sides sectional championships on Friday at Sunken Meadow State Park. Drama mixed with competition in the form of a tiebreaker process that cast the spotlight on the No. 6 runners.

Shoreham senior John Lee, running in the Class B race, won his second straight sectional title by covering the 3.1-mile distance in 16 minutes 37.20 seconds. Southold freshman Jon Rempe was the Class D champion, clocking a time of 19:17.50.

But it was the No. 6 runners for both teams, Jack Kelly of Shoreham and Matthew Reilly of Southold, who proved pivotal.

Shoreham had finished tied on points with Harborfields, but earned the title because Kelly (19th in 18:05.00) fared better than Harborfields’ No. 6 runner, Connor Pulvidente, who was 20th in 18:09.70.

The tiebreaking procedure also favored Southold, which posted 28 points, as did The Stony Brook School. Reilly’s 12th place in 21:55.00 was critical, though. It topped the 17th place turned in by Stony Brook’s No. 6 runner, Darryl Baker (22:25.50).

Southold coach Karl Himmelman knew the chase for the Class D team title was close, but it wasn’t until he saw the official tally that he learned his team had prevailed in the tiebreaker.

“That’s incredible,” he said. “I was stressing to the kids for the past few weeks that even though cross country seems like an individual effort, it’s very much a team effort. Today was a perfect example of that. Every single runner on this team made a difference. Every stride made the difference to be county champs.”

Every runner counts.

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Jon Rempe, a freshman, took first place in the Class D race for Section XI champion Southold.

Shoreham coach Bob Szymanski knows that as well as anyone. Anticipating a tight Class B race, he said he had given his runners nine pep talks in the week preceding the meet. “I couldn’t talk any more,” he said.

Then the Wildcats let their legs do the talking for them, collecting their eighth sectional title in nine years.

Lee led the way, defending his sectional crown on a day that was deemed by some as ideal for running.

“I felt this before,” said Lee, who won five invitational meets and every dual meet he competed in this season. “It’s a good feeling.”

Lee follows in the footsteps of Bobby Andrews, who was the last Shoreham boy to win back-to-back sectional titles in 2007 and 2008.

Sunken Meadow’s famed Cardiac Hill doesn’t seem to bother Lee. He came in third as a sophomore in the sectional meet here before winning the meet last year and going on to finish 15th on another hilly course in the 2010 state meet.

“I’m a hill guy,” he said.

The closest competition Lee faced was from Adam LaFemina of Bayport-Blue Point, who was second in 16:51.90.

The strong showing by Shoreham also featured a third-place finish by Tyler Keys (16:53.30) and an eighth-place showing by Ryan Udvadia (17:17.50). Then, places Nos. 17 through 19 were filled by Shoreham’s Dan Purschke (18:02.30), Evan Purdy (18:04.80) and Kelly.

“These guys run with a lot of heart,” Szymanski said. “This is a team sport. I said the only way we can win this is if everybody does their job.”

Kelly didn’t know he had made the difference in the team scoring until a reporter told him afterward. He said he could not have imagined he would have played such prominent a role in the race’s outcome.

“It wasn’t just me,” said the sophomore, who was humble about his contribution. “It was the whole team. We all ran really strong, and I’m really happy.”

The happiness in the Southold camp was also evident.

“It’s been a great day,” Southold coach Karl Himmelman said. “I think this team deserves this win, well, they’ve earned this win. They really have. It starts back in July as we start to run over the summer, and it all comes down to this. They made the most of it.”

With the exception of a single Pierson runner, all of the top 12 Class D finishers were wearing Southold or Stony Brook uniforms.

“My hat’s off to the Stony Brook coach because they had a great race,” Himmelman said. “They were stride for stride with our boys all the way, and it really in many cases came down to that last couple of hundred meters.”

Four Southold runners were among the top eight, including Griffin Quist (third in 20:05.50), Frank Cone (fifth in 20:27.90) and Ryan Hanrahan (eighth in 21:25.10). Ian Toy of Southold was 11th in 21:44.80.

But it was young Rempe who reached the finish line first. “I didn’t do as good as I thought I would,” he said. “… Coming up Cardiac was really tough.”

Himmelman said Rempe has the potential to be an outstanding runner. “The results speak for themselves,” the coach said. “He has got a lot of potential, and I’m looking forward to having three more years of him.”

As sectional champions, both Shoreham and Southold will compete as teams in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Championships on Nov. 12 at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School.

Two Mattituck runners, senior Corey Zlatniski and junior Casey Grathwohl, will be making the trip upstate because of their performances in the Class C race. Zlatniski finished fourth behind three Port Jefferson runners in 17:42.70, the best time he has ever posted on the course. Grathwohl was three places behind him at 18:16.60.

This is Zlatniski’s second year of qualifying for the state meet, but it didn’t seem to detract from his excitement. “Stoked,” he said. “There’s no other way to explain it. I trained so hard this whole year just to get this.”

Riverhead junior Anthony Galvan had a lot to feel good about as well. Although he didn’t qualify for the state meet, Galvan earned all-county status with a personal-record time of 17:29.60 that brought him 26th place in the Class A race.

It was hard to say who was more excited over the achievement, Galvan or his coach, Patrick Burke.

“You can’t teach heart and soul,” Burke said. “That’s what this runner has.”

Galvan, who didn’t qualify for the sectional meet last year, said being an all-county runner means a lot to him. “It’s something I always wanted,” he said. “It’s like a dream come true.”

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10/18/11 9:42pm
10/18/2011 9:42 PM

Julie Milliman admitted that winning wasn’t exactly first and foremost on her mind prior to the Mattituck boys cross country team’s Suffolk County League VIII dual meet against Port Jefferson on Tuesday. The Tuckers’ second-year coach told her runners to run a smart race. They responded by running a winning race.

Mattituck snapped an 89-meet win streak by Port Jefferson, which had not lost in 14 years. With their 25-33 upset of the Royals at Sunken Meadow State Park, the Tuckers (5-1) finished the dual-meet season in a three-way tie for first place along with Center Moriches and Port Jefferson.

“I always look at Port Jeff as a program that you respect,” Milliman said. “They know what they’re doing. I feel lucky. I feel honored that my team works so hard.”

Mattituck runners took five of the top eight places in the race on the three-mile course. Corey Zlatniski was second in 17 minutes 4 seconds, one second ahead of his teammate, third-place Casey Grathwohl. Marcos Perivolaris was fifth in 18:02, Jake Nolan was seventh in 19:14 and Josh Conklin eighth in 19:23.

Milliman said all those times were personal-best numbers for those runners at Sunken Meadow.

It made for a happy ride home for the Tuckers, who had a pizza party on the bus.

Not a bad way to end a dual-meet season.

Said Milliman, “I can‘t really have pictured it any better.”

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09/20/11 12:42pm
09/20/2011 12:42 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Southold senior Griffin Quist, left, and freshman Jonathan Rempe are some of the team's top runners.

Jonathan Rempe is apparently one of those runners who has a natural gift, an aptitude for cross-country running. As far as Karl Himmelmann, the second-year coach of the Southold First Settlers, knows, the only running Rempe did last year was on his own.

That’s something because Rempe, a freshman, is now Southold’s top runner. He has already broken 19 minutes at Sunken Meadow State Park’s demanding 3.1-mile course.

The First Settlers (2-3 last season) not only have Rempe, but they also have four other runners who qualified for the state meet last year: senior Frank Cone, senior Griffin Quist, junior Ryan Hanrahan and junior John Tomici. That helps absorb the loss of Sal Manno, the team’s most valuable runner who graduated.

Also returning for the 2011 season are senior Matt Reilly, senior Kieran Brodarick, junior Emmett Bufkins, sophomore Markis Croteau, junior Andy Rubin, sophomore Ian Toy and junior Garrett DeFriest.

Cone and Reilly are the team captains.

Among the new faces are sophomores Logan Pfister, James MacArthur and Anthony Esposito, and freshmen Chris Buono, Michael Cosmadelis and Gus Rymer.

“They’re very talented runners,” said Himmelmann.

Eighteen runners are on the team. That’s not bad for a small school.

“I was thrilled,” Himmelmann said. “The boys really came out in numbers. … With such a large number of runners … the team chemistry has just clicked right from the start.”

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Mattituck senior Corey Zlatniski was an all-league runner last year who made it to the state meet.

The numbers have been good in Mattituck, too. Almost unheard of, actually.

This season the Tuckers have 30 — that’s right, 30 — runners on their roster. What accounts for the large turnout?

“I don’t know. Maybe they just have a really great coach,” Coach Julie Milliman said, smiling in jest.

Numbers mean depth, and depth means competition, and competition for places on a team is always a good thing, as Milliman knows.

It’s also a good thing to have a runner like Corey Zlatniski on the team. Zlatniski, a senior, was an all-league runner last year who made it to the state meet.

“He’s looking good,” Milliman said. “… His times are right where we want. We hope he peaks at the right time and returns to the state meet.”

Also back from the 2010 squad are seniors Zach Hinsch and Matt Ireland, juniors Casey Grathwohl and Anthony Howell, and sophomores Ralph Pugliese, Adam Hicks, Chris Hicks and Charlie Hickox.

The rest of the roster includes: Josh Conklin, Ryan Debrowski, Jack Dufton, James Finora, Harrison Forte, John Hellerman, Doug Krudup, Roy Lebkuecher, Chris Mehalakes, Joe Nadel, Jake Nolan, Oliver Orr, Dan Pawlik, Pulith Peires, Dan Peters, Marcos Perivolaris, Nick Piraino, Jason Reeve, James Rugnetta, Kevin Schwartz, Chris Sledjeski, Caleb Smith and Andrew Young.

“It’s a big group, diverse personalities, and just a good work ethic among the upperclassmen, and the [underclassmen] want to improve themselves, so it’s good,” said Milliman, who is projecting a winning season and believes the team can send two or three runners to the state meet.

“I want all 30 runners to finish [the season] and everybody to set personal records,” she said, “every last one of them.”

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09/15/11 7:13pm
09/15/2011 7:13 PM

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Runners hit the course shortly after the start of the Peconic Invitational at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays.

With his high school boys cross-country team largely unfamiliar with the 3.1-mile course at Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays, Shoreham-Wading River Coach Bob Szymanski was more than a little concerned. He was fearful that one of his top runners might make a wrong turn in the woods somewhere along the line during the fourth annual Peconic Invitational, so he warned Evan Purdy to be careful about staying on the course. Purdy tried to ease his coach’s mind, telling him that he had walked the course before.

Then Purdy went out and proved that he knew the fastest route to the finish line.

The Shoreham-Wading River junior finished in first place as the Wildcats took five of the top eight places and won the season-opening invitational under an overcast sky on Thursday. Purdy’s time was 18 minutes 9.90 seconds. His average mile time on the hilly 3.1-mile course was 5:50.8.

“I felt great,” he said following his first win in an invitational meet since he was a freshman. “It’s a good start to the season.”

Following Purdy was teammate Jack Kelly, a sophomore who was second in 18:21.47. Dylan McAllister of Westhampton Beach was third in 18:28.46.

Purdy and Kelly worked as a team and had a sound strategy. They allowed a pair of Westhampton Beach runners to take the lead and set the pace before making their move. “Then, with about a half-mile left we started to pick it up and burned them,” said Purdy.

The Wildcats easily won the team competition with 23 points. The Westhampton Beach Hurricanes were second with 61, and the Riverhead Blue Waves were third with 81. The Mattituck Tuckers finished seventh among the eight teams with 166 points.

What made Shoreham’s team title so impressive was that it came without the team’s top two runners. Szymanski sat John Lee, who was the Suffolk County Class A champion last year, and Tyler Keys. He preferred to rest them both for the Jim Smith Invitational on Saturday at Sunken Meadow State Park.

But Purdy, a three-sport athlete who also swims and plays lacrosse, and Kelly, a converted baseball player, rose to the occasion.

“I was impressed,” Szymanski said. “I knew Evan had a chance to win it.”

Purdy, who had never run this course before, said it is now his favorite. “I like that the hills break it up a lot so it’s not just a straight-out sprint,” he said.

Anthony Galvan, a Riverhead junior, clocked a time of 18:34.40 to bring him fourth place. “For the first race of the season, I’m pretty happy,” he said.

Was his performance a sign that he will have a good season?

“I hope so,” answered Galvan.

Three of the next four finishers wore Shoreham colors — Dan Purschke (18:36.18), Keith Steinbrecher (18:49.59) and Ryan Udvadia (18:49.86). Among that mix was John McMahon of Center Moriches, who was sixth in 18:43.85.

Shoreham’s top two finishers both said they wanted to win for their coach.

“He’s an excellent coach,” Kelly said of Szymanski. “We love him.”

Two other young Shoreham runners who didn’t do badly, either, were sophomores Sean Condron (17th in 19:47.00) and Matt Leunig (18th in 19:57.12).

“It turned out to be a good day for us,” said Szymanski.

Kevin Williams of Riverhead was 10th in 18:53.32, and another Riverheader, Travis Wooten, was 15th in 19:29.35.

The top runner for Mattituck was Corey Zlatniski, who was 12th in 19:07.68, which is two minutes faster than his opening time last season. Casey Grathwohl was the next Mattituck runner to cross the finish line in 20:16.80, bringing him 22nd place.

Starting a new season on an unfamiliar course can be something of a mystery. “It’s almost like walking in blind because you don’t know what you’ll see next, and you don’t know how fast kids have gotten over the summer,” said Zlatniski.

How did he like running at Red Creek Park?

“It’s hard,” Zlatniski said. “It’s really hard. There’s like three consecutive hills that don’t look like much, but they really strain you. It’s a good thing because it’s starting to prepare me for Cardiac [Hill at Sunken Meadow State Park], and when the state race comes up, I’ll be ready.”

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