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.”