Talk about going from one extreme to another.
The Southold High School boys cross-country team said goodbye to six seniors, the largest graduating class Karl Himmelmann has had in his 11 years coaching the team.
And now he has his largest class of freshmen runners: seven. The 18 runners on the team are also the most he’s ever had.
“They’re young, they’re freshmen. They’re hungry,” said Himmelmann.
Does this dramatic shift from a veteran team to a young team demand a different brand of coaching?
“In some respects yes, in other respects no,” Himmelmann said. “Although they’re young, they’re rising to the challenge of higher-degree workouts that I’ve been throwing at them these past few weeks.”
All-League sophomore Isaiah Mraz was Southold’s top runner by the end of last season. “Isaiah shows up on race day,” Himmelmann said. “He is a competitor.”
Seniors James Hoyt and Jacob Boivin have taken on leadership roles.
Some of the up-and-coming runners are sophomore Tate Klipstein, his brother, eighth-grader Flynn Klipstein, and freshmen Jaden Olsen and Jack Goscinski.
“It’s wide open as to who’s going to rise to the top of the team,” Himmelmann said. “There’s a lot of potential there. My hat’s off to my junior high coach, John Palmeri. He ran those kids well.”
At the junior high level, races don’t go longer than 1 1/2 miles, whereas varsity races are typically 3.1 miles long. The training mileage goes up to an average of 30-35 miles per preseason week, said Himmelmann, who drops the mileage a bit during the season, with more speed-specific training.
“This is going to be a crew that’s going to be together for quite some time,” Himmelmann said. “Whether they realize it or not, they have the chance to do something special over these next few years.”
Mattituck coach Mike Jablonski was in for a pleasant surprise when preseason practices began and he had some promising freshman show up. “They just walked on,” he said. “I had no idea, so it’s a nice little present.”
For a team that lost top runner Christian Demchak to graduation, the addition of freshmen Trevor Zapulla, his twin brother Mark Zapulla, Lexington Horton and Jack Hutchinson is a nice plus. They help fortify the Tuckers (3-2 last year), who have veterans like senior Eric Palencia, sophomore Luke Woods, senior Matt Schultz and junior Luke Altman to rely on.
“It’s probably been the best [Mattituck] team since I’ve been coaching, time-wise,” said Jablonski, who is in his sixth year coaching.
Jablonski said Palencia is the team’s top runner, but Trevor Zapulla is right on his heels.
“Last year we had two top runners and the rest of the team kind of fell behind,” Jablonski said. “Here we have a good pack of scorers and a top seven. There’s no superstars that stand out. They all work together and push each other.”
Photo caption: All-League sophomore Isaiah Mraz finished last season as Southold’s top runner. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk, file)