SCHENECTADY — Years ago, back when Lauren Santiago was a middle-schooler on the Amsterdam girls’ track and field team, she watched Izaiah Brown collect one win after another for the school’s boys’ team at the first William F. Eddy Jr. Memorial Track and Field Meet she attended.
Seeing Brown, who starred for Rutgers University after his storied high school career closed in 2015, win so decisively motivated Santiago.
It made the then-13-year-old dream big — and covet the reward for an Eddy Meet win.
“I remember thinking that I wanted to be winning one of those big trophies one day,” Santiago, now an 18-year-old senior, said at Saturday’s Eddy Meet.
For the second year in a row, Santiago did just that at Saturday’s 79th edition of the Capital Region’s top high school track and field invitational. Like the former Amsterdam runner she once idolized, Santiago defended her 400-meter dash championship with a dominant performance. Santiago outdid the rest of her field by more than a second with a winning time of 56.07 that broke her own school record and set a new season-best for the state in the event.
“This is the meet we’ve been looking forward to all year,” Amsterdam girls’ head coach Stu Palczak said. “It’s the Eddy Meet. It raises your level automatically.”
“And this is my last Eddy,” Santiago said, “so I wanted to end it the best way I could.”
That meant winning an individual championship, something three Amsterdam girls' competitors did last year when the program won the team title, too. This year, Santiago won the lone race she competed in Saturday while sporting “#RFBT” written in marker on her left shoulder.
“It means, ‘Run fast, big trophy,’” Santiago said with a smile.
“We try to keep things simple,” Palczak said. “Track’s not that complicated.”
It's not easy, though, either — and it wasn’t until relatively recently that Amsterdam track and field athletes competed consistently at a high level at the Eddy Meet. What started with a couple podium finishes back in 2010 morphed into something different when Brown made his star turn in 2012 with a jaw-dropping 47.80 mark in the 400 as a freshman. As Brown produced a high school career that saw him win numerous Section II, state and federation championships, the Eddy Meet at Schenectady High School’s Larry Mulvaney Field remained a special playground for Brown, where he won trophy after trophy on his way to securing four outstanding athlete of the meet honors.
On its own, that was great for the Amsterdam program. What it led to, though, was perhaps even better. While the program’s high-level success didn’t completely start with Brown, his exploits raised confidence for others around him — and, in general, played a role in encouraging more participation in the school’s program.
“It said to Amsterdam kids that we could be successful,” Palczak said.
Santiago remembers taking in that message.
“I was under [Brown’s] wing when he was here, and he always looked so smooth and like he was never tired when he was running,” said Santiago, who will compete for Sacred Heart University at the next level. “I hope people see me the same way when I’m running.”
That’s how Kevin Wilary sees it. The Amsterdam boys’ head coach who guided Brown during his years as a Ram remembers when seemingly all attention around the school’s track and field program was dedicated to one athlete. In the years that followed Brown’s breakout at the Eddy Meet, though, Amsterdam has churned out track and field stars — both on the boys’ and girls’ sides.
“When you thought of Amsterdam track, the [only] person that came to mind was Izaiah,” Wilary said. “That’s changing, and that’s really exciting for us.”
For Santiago, the Eddy Meet was an invitational long circled on her calendar.
“This is where the most competition is going to be,” Santiago said.
And, for a second year in a row, she proved she stood out from that crowd.
“Amsterdam breeds 400 runners,” Santiago said, “and I’m lucky to be one of them.”