The day began in bright morning sunshine with Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake winning a national championship in the girls’ 4 x mile relay, and finished under the threat of a thunderstorm with Saratoga Springs running a spectacular second in the girls’ distance medley.
Those two performances, both of which rank high on the all-time U.S. list, were among the highlights for Section II athletes on the second day of the Nike Outdoor Nationals Saturday at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, N.C.
Not to be lost in the shuffle were the 10:07.65 — an all-time Section II record — run by Shenendehowa for fifth place in the boys’ distance medley, and the gutsy fifth turned in by Molly Pezzulo of Burnt Hills in the freshman mile. They were among a large group of Capital
Region athletes to earn All-America status.
“You come down the homestretch, and everyone is screaming,” said Saratoga senior Hannah Davidson. “Your adrenaline gets going so bad.”
“My coach was yelling to me,” said Burnt Hills junior Meaghan Gregory, who was comfortably ahead of the pack in the 4 x mile. “He said we had a shot at a really good time.”
Swept up in an electrifying atmosphere of national-record performances in the prestigious meet, the Burnt Hills girls made their mark first, easily tacking an outdoor national championship onto their indoor crown with the third-best time ever run by a high school team in America, 20:09.87.
Then, the Saratoga girls staged a thrilling battle with rival Warwick Valley, pushing the downstate team to a national record of 11:31.81 in the distance medley.
In between, Davidson was unable to defend her national steeplechase championship and settled for third, but that was quickly forgotten when the Providence-bound senior ran a gutty 4:54.7 mile leg on the DMR and helped shave six seconds off the Section II record.
“I kind of put it [the steeplechase] behind me and focused on this race,” she said on the phone, minutes after finishing. “It paid off.”
It was junior Brianne Bellon who set up the Blue Streaks’ effort, running a 3:31.7 for the first 1,200
meters. She went through the first 800 in 2:22 to open a sizeable lead, then held off Warwick’s Torri Pennings heading to the first exchange.
“That was five seconds faster than I’ve ever had a kid run the 1,200 before,” said coach Linda Kranick.
But although freshman Amanda Burroughs ran a commendable 60.1 on the 400-meter leg, Warwick surged well into the lead with Kristen Jados’ 57.3.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” said Saratoga junior Michelle
Riley, who had much ground to make up on her 800 leg and closed the gap considerably with a 2:09.9. “I thought I was going to catch her, but I didn’t. I tried my best.
“Then Hannah really sucked it up for us.”
Davidson almost immediately got up on the shoulder of Warwick anchor Lillian Griebesland, who wound up running a remarkable 4:50 for 1,600 meters.
“I caught her in the first 150 meters and tried to go by, but she picked it up a little so I decided to let her lead if she wanted it,” Davidson said.
Davidson later took the lead just before the 800 and held it until the final backstretch, when the Warwick sophomore put on an impressive spurt and pulled away to chase down Bayshore’s national record of 11:33.42.
“She had a really big kick,” Davidson said., “I tried to go by, but couldn’t do it. “
“She was aggressive and went
after it,” Kranick said. “Sometimes, you run your best race and don’t win.”
Davidson finished with a 4:54.7, leaving Kranick to wonder what her split might had been had she not run the steeplechase earlier in the day. The Streaks’ final time of 11:36.81 shattered the all-time area record of 11:42.49 they had run for second place in the Penn Relays nearly two months ago.
“It was ridiculous,” said Davidson of the pace of the race. “I knew it would be fast, but not that fast.”
“I guess that will keep us coaching for a while,” said Kranick, who, along with her husband Art, have built Saratoga into a perennial national power in both cross country and track.
In the steeplechase under the blazing sun at noon, Davidson said, “I was dead. It must have been the heat.”
She latched onto eventual winner Shelby Greany of Suffern early in the race, but lost ground with her two-footed landings in the water pit and slipped back to fourth before recovering for third place.
“We’ve been working on it
[water jumps], and I didn’t pull it together in time,” said Davidson, who ran a 6:54.69, well off her seasonal best of 6:45.0. Greany ran 6:42.86, and freshman Danielle Winslow of Queensbury took eighth in 7:08.63.
While Saratoga had plenty of competition in the DMR, Burnt Hills was by itself in the latter stages of the 4 x mile.
Even though sophomore Rachel Cyrus led off in a personal best of 5:08.3, the Spartans were in fifth place, nine seconds behind the leaders. And Pezzulo’s 5:04.8 on the second leg only picked up a couple of places with the team still facing a big deficit.
“We’ve run these races enough that we didn’t panic. We know what to do,” said Shaun Zepf, who coaches the Burnt Hills girls’ distance runners. “I think those teams in front loaded their leadoff legs.”
But while most teams use their weakest leg on the third leg, Burnt Hills ran its strongest. After Sam Roecker uncorked a 4:55.2, the Spartans were suddenly comfortably in the lead.
“I knew that Molly and Rachel put us in a good position, and my job coming into this was to get us as far ahead as I could and give Meaghan the best chance possible to win,” said Roecker. “I was calm and relaxed. I knew what I had to do.”
Gregory, whose junior year has been marred by illness, was more than up to the task of protecting the lead, and ran a 5:00.2.
“It was really nice to have that security,” said Gregory, who then shifted gears in the latter part of the race to chase down a quality time. “It’s hard to run by yourself, but with a lap to go, I kicked as hard as I could.”
The Spartans did have that competition in the distance medley, where they finished fourth in 11:53.25. Gregory led off in 3;40.7, followed by Kendra Adams in 58.4, Cyrus in 2:18.8 and Roecker in 4:54.5.
Pezzulo’s second race of the day was the freshman mile, where she made a three-wide move on the second backstretch to take the lead because the pace was too slow, but then was passed on the final lap. She ran fourth in her heat and fifth overall in 5:11.29. Winslow was seventh in 5:12.24.
With lightning striking off in the distance and rain coming down, hard at times, Shenendehowa ran 10:07.65 for the boys’ distance medley, eclipsing the school and all-time area record of 10:07.77 it had set in 2004.
“We thought we could be in the top six, and hoped we could get close to 10 minutes,” said Shenendehowa coach Don Paretta. “For three of my kids, it was their last race at Shenendehowa.”
Senior Zac Suriano held the lead early in his 3:08.1 leadoff leg, but lost ground toward the end. Senior Patrell Brown closed the gap with a 48.4, and senior Ryan Jones got the Plainsmen closer with a 1:54.9. That set up junior Mike Danaher for his 4:15.9 finish.
While the Shenendehowa boys are graduating several stars, the girls had only one senior on the
4 x mile relay that finished fourth in 20:54.49. Freshman Alexandra Burtnick led off in 5:27, followed by senior Morgan Roche (5:17), junior Cara Janeczko (5:09) and eighth-grader Lizzie Predmore (5:00.4).