Converting Emily Russell into a pentathlete was a no-brainer, really. Not only does she have enthusiasm for a variety of track and field events, but her coach noticed that she seems to do well in whatever event she enters.
The pentathlon, comprised of five events, seemed like a natural for the Southold High School senior.
Other factors played into the decision. Her two best events — the high jump and shot put, both part of the pentathlon — are often contested concurrently at invitational meets, creating logistical issues and stress. Also, it was believed that the pentathlon offered Russell the best avenue to the New York State championships.
It would be hard to argue that point after Russell became the first Southold/Greenport girl to qualify for the state meet and make All-County. She did that by finishing as the top Division II pentathlete (and third overall) in the Section XI state qualifier Saturday at Comsewogue High School.
Russell was in good shape heading into the final event, the 800 meters. She had accumulated enough points that the only way she would have not taken the title was if Elwood/John Glenn senior Mia Sansanelli or Port Jefferson senior Sabrina Schully ran 30 seconds faster than her.
“That seemed crazy, but in my mind, it was still a possibility,” Russell said. “You never know what can happen. You’re still very worried.”
It didn’t happen.
Russell finished the race eighth in 2 minutes, 46.38 seconds. Sansanelli was one place ahead of her in 2:45.92. Schully was 11th in 2:51.78.
That left Russell as the Division II champion with 2,598 points. She was third overall behind Northport senior Sydnie Rohme (3,133) and Sachem East senior Jasmine Ahmed (2,616). Sansanelli (2,297) was sixth and Schully (2,248) seventh.
“When she finished that 800, she had a really great smile on her face,” said Southold coach Karl Himmelmann.
Perhaps because she earned herself a place in the state meet that will be run Friday and Saturday at Middletown High School. “It’s magical going up there and just being among the best in New York State,” said Himmelmann.
Russell had finished Friday, the first day of the state qualifier, in the same position she ended up in the final standings for the 15-girl field. She didn’t disappoint in her two strongest events, taking first place in the shot put (35 feet, 5 1/4 inches) and tying for first in the high jump (5-1/2). She was also third in the 100 hurdles (18.84) and sixth in the long jump (14-11 1/2).
“I think I did good in all events except the long jump,” Russell said. “I was just off my game for that. I didn’t have my cup of coffee in the morning.”
She added, “It is difficult to excel at five different events because a lot of people do the pentathlon because they’re really good at two events, and the other three you have to learn quickly and pick it up.”
Russell won the Section XI Division III pentathlon title a week earlier. That was her first pentathlon.
She said she had never competed in the hurdles or 800 before the division meet, but she received plenty of coaching help. Himmelmann and Bill Hiney have worked with her on the high jump, Himmelmann coached her in the 800, Hiney in the shot put, Joe Corrado in the long jump and Stephanie Berberich in the hurdles. “There have been a lot of pieces that have made this puzzle come together for her,” said Himmelmann.
And then, of course, there was the athleticism that Russell, who averaged 15 points a dual meet and will compete for SUNY/Cortland next season, brings.
“She’s really an incredible athlete,” Himmelmann said. “She’s a very coachable athlete. She listens, she works. She’s everything you look for in an athlete.”
In retrospect, the decision to enter the pentathlon proved to be the right one for Russell. She said, “I’m glad that that’s the choice that we made.”
Photo caption: Southold/Greenport senior Emily Russell, competing in the 100-meter hurdles Friday at Comsewogue High School, won the Section XI Division II pentathlon championship. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)