Owen Klipstein has a lot of things going for him as a cross-country runner. The Southold High School junior is tall, has long legs, is dedicated and follows his coach’s workout instructions to the tee.
“He’s the complete package as far as what you want from a runner,” said Southold’s coach, Karl Himmelmann.
Himmelmann said Klipstein is something else. “I’d have to say he’s the best runner I’ve coached in the five years I’ve been at Southold,” said the coach.
The First Settlers (5-1) are coming off a stellar year in which they won their third Suffolk County Class D championship in four years.
“They were absolutely thrilled,” Himmelmann said. He recalled: “We knew we were strong. I told them at the beginning of the season, ‘Stick with the plan and things will turn out well.’ ”
Klipstein is the only one of the team’s top seven runners from last year’s team who is back, but what a runner to have back. He won the Suffolk Class D race in 18 minutes 21.23 seconds at Sunken Meadow State Park’s 3.1-mile course. Then he finished 40th in the state meet on a muddy course at SUNY/Canton, completing 3.1 miles in 17:59.1. It was his third appearance in the state meet.
Klipstein was named an all-league runner and the team’s most valuable player.
“He’s an incredibly talented runner,” Himmelmann said of his team captain. “He’s looking incredibly strong. He has a legitimate shot at being an all-county runner this year.”
In order to do that, Klipstein would have to run under 17:50 at Sunken Meadow State Park.
Three former Southold teammates have helped Klipstein get to where he is: Jon Rempe, Gus Rymer and Chris Buono. “He always had to work a little bit harder just to keep up with them,” said Himmelmann.
Despite losing six of his top seven runners, Himmelmann believes the First Settlers have an “excellent” chance at repeating as county champions. That speaks well of returning runners Joe Saporita, Ethan Sisson, Gage Bennett, Kyle Skrezec, Joe Tsoumpelis and Rob Kruszeski. They are all juniors except for Sisson, a senior.
Justin Tobin, a sophomore transfer from Bishop McGann-Mercy, joins the team along with a strong field of freshmen: Michael Chacon, Patrick Connolly, Max Kruszeski (Rob’s brother), Anakin Mignone and Rob Elliston.
The First Settlers finished second in League VIII last year to Port Jefferson (6-0), the only team that beat them.
“One of these days we’re going to get them,” said Himmelmann, who is beginning to see the fruits of a junior high school team that was formed a couple of years ago. “They have a culture of running in that district. It seems like they grow strong runners. … Every year out they pump out strong runners.”
The First Settlers haven’t done too bad themselves in recent years.
“Last year there were a lot of seasoned veterans,” Himmelmann said. “This year it’s a lot of young kids. They’re energetic. They’re excited. Every day they run better. … It’s going to be exciting to see what happens.”
Mattituck (3-2) has a standout runner in its own right: Jack Dufton.
“I believe his potential is astounding,” Mattituck’s second-year coach, Mike Jablonski, said of the senior. “His running ability and his understanding of running is just beyond any of my other athletes.”
Dufton is the undisputed leader of Mattituck’s 31-runner team. He trains as hard as anybody. He helps teammates.
“Everything, it’s all great,” Jablonski said. “He’s a great student, a great person. … He’s a guy I tell everybody, ‘That’s what you want to be right now.’ ”
Not too far behind Dufton, however, is junior Dan Harkin. Both were all-league runners last year.
“Dan at times is just as good a runner as Jack,” Jablonski said. “On certain days he can beat Jack.”
Also among the team’s possible scorers are senior Lucas Webb and juniors Josh Prager, Frank Imbriano and Thomas Hoeg.
The team has prepared for the season by running trails near Laurel Lake. Jablonski said the first week of preseason practice is the most brutal and he was encouraged that all the runners had stayed with it. The team’s motto is “hugs and high-fives,” he said, “just get everybody through it.”
Jablonski said: “We like to have fun and enjoy each other’s time, but we like to work hard. I expect everyone, from my ninth graders who had never run in their life to my seniors to push it every day.”
Photo Caption: Southold’s top runner, Owen Klipstein, was the Suffolk County Class D champion last year and his team won the county title as well. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)