Streaks’ Davidson eyes repeat in national steeplechase

Hannah Davidson of Saratoga Springs returns to defend her championship in the 2,000-meter steeplecha
Hannah Davidson of Saratoga Springs wins the Nike Outdoor Nationals steeplechase last June in Greensboro, N.C. (Vic Sailer,
Hannah Davidson of Saratoga Springs wins the Nike Outdoor Nationals steeplechase last June in Greensboro, N.C. (Vic Sailer,

Hannah Davidson returns to defend her national championship in the 2,000-meter steeplechase, but Saratoga Springs will not have a full contingent at this weekend’s Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C., for a good reason.

Coach Linda Kranick firmly believes that academics come first, so state indoor and outdoor hurdle champion Madalayne Smith will stay home this year because one of her Regents exams is scheduled for Friday, the same day as the NON high hurdle trials and finals.

“I could not have a kid skip a Regents,” said Kranick, noting that Smith will get a chance to run in the nationals the next two years. Weight thrower Haley Franco is among the other Blue Streaks’ stars whose event schedules are in conflict with state exams.

Other New York schools struggle with the same problem, and that’s part of the reason why only five other Capital Region teams — Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake, Shenendehowa, Colonie, Niskayuna and Queensbury — are making the trip to Greensboro.

The three-day meet opens tonight at North Carolina A&T Un­iversity.

Davidson, who graduates next week and heads to Providence College in the fall, is done with exams and is clear to pursue another

national title. And she won’t be spent by an earlier race.

Saratoga had traditionally competed in (and regularly won) the

4 x mile race early Saturday morning, but has gotten away from that event the last two years. Part of the reason is that the 4 x mile is at 8:30 a.m., and that would give

Davidson little recovery time before her steeplechase at 11:45.

“This time of the year, we have some kids who like to do individual events,” said Kranick. “The steeplechase is even earlier on this year’s schedule.”

Davidson passed up the steeplechase at the state meet last week, even though she held the best time in the nation, the 6:45.0 she ran at the Tiger Relays in late April. She also ran a 6:46.17 in winning the Hartford Invitational two week later. At the states, Davidson chose to run the 3,000, and placed third.

Shelby Greany of Suffern impressively won the state steeplechase instead, taking over Davidson’s national lead with a 6:43.03, and looms as the main competition this weekend. In last year’s NON race, Davidson held off Greany, 6:43.73 to 6:44.63.

“They haven’t gone head-to-head since last year at the nationals,” said Kranick. “Shelby’s been around for a while. She’s a good athlete.

“Good competition brings out the best in kids. You run your best times with good competition.”

The national steeplechase has become part of the Saratoga girls’ track lore, as Jamie Sweeney won a national title in 2002 and Lindsey Ferguson, who just completed her sophomore season at Notre Dame, triumphed in 2004 and 2005. Both were also national record holders.

This will mark Davidson’s fifth appearance in the race. She was fourth as an eighth-grader and set a national freshman record of 6:48.64 while chasing Ferguson in 2005. Davidson was third the following year, when Marie Lawrence of Reno, Nevada, prevented a Ferguson three-peat and set the national mark which still stands, 6:35.63.

Following the steeplechase, Davidson, who was named the outstanding senior cross country runner in New York last fall, will have one more race to complete her outstanding career at Saratoga. The Blue Streaks will come back Saturday night at 7:10 with a strong entry in the distance medley relay.

Competing as Kinetic Running Club, Saratoga has also entered sophomore half-mile stars Brianne Bellon and Michelle Riley in the DMR, along with junior Amanda Burroughs. The Streaks were runners-up in the Championship of America race at the Penn Relays, clocking a Section II-record 11:42.49 and falling just short against Roxbury, N.J. (11:42.16). Those two times have remained 1-2 in the nat­ion ever since the April 24 race.

The heavy-hitter in the race could be the Blazing Raiders from Maryland, comprised of the Eleanor Roosevelt High School stars who set a national record of 8:43.12 in the 4 x 800 relay this spring.

A talented crew of girls’ runners from Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake will also be heard from in the distance medley, with underclassmen Meaghan Gregory, Sam Roecker, Rachel Cyrus and intermediate hurdle ace Kendra Adams in the lineup.

But the Spartans’ focus will be in the 4 x mile relay, after they ran the fastest time in the U.S. indoors, 20:14.24, defeating Roxbury in the National Scholastic Indoor Champ­ionships in March in New York. The same foursome — Gregory, Roecker, Cyrus and freshman Molly Pezzulo — will run in Greensboro.

“The way our team is designed, this is the best race for us,” said Shaun Zepf, who coaches the Burnt Hills girls’ distance runners.

While Roecker has had an outstanding spring, including a runner-up finish in the state meet 3,000, Gregory has struggled. She was set back by mononucleosis earlier in the school year, and after making a comeback indoors, has been hindered by a related illness that causes chronic fatigue.

“Anything she has done outdoors has been under a fair amount of

duress,” said Zepf. “Anything she has done has been amazing.”

Considering that oppressive heat is often a factor in North Carolina this time of year, the early-morning start is welcome.

“If you’re the fourth leg, you have to sit around in the blazing sun an extra 15 minutes and bake,” Zepf said.

Burnt Hills ran 20:34.10 in last year’s meet and finished second to Cal Coast Track Club.

Pezzulo is also penciled in for the freshman mile, after taking the unseeded section of the state meet 1,600 in 4:39.13.

Shenendehowa is also looking for a strong effort in the girls’ 4 x mile with Alexandra Burtnick, Morgan Roche, Lizzie Predmore and Cara Janeczko.

Queensbury’s Danielle Winslow, a surprise third-place finisher in the state meet, advances to the national steeplechase and will double back in the freshman mile.

Teammate Matt Flint kicks things off tonight in the 5k, and will come back Saturday morning in the 2,000-meter steeplechase.

Colonie and Shenendehowa are both in the boys’ 4 x 800 relay, but the DMR may be the best fit for the Plainsmen.

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