By Benito Vila
Â Two points were all that separated the Lady Whaler cross-country team from a perfect season. The team finished its regular season schedule 4-2; the two losses coming by a single point each time, margins that can be described best in split seconds and inches.
Considering the girls commonly compete on a 3.1-mile (5K) course, those measurements can be thought of as being nearly insignificant. But that’s not the approach the team or their coach, Jim Kinnier, took. Instead, the losses served to motivate their resolve and effort.
That intensity and work paid off last Friday when the team came away from the Suffolk County championship meet with the Class D crown for the second year in a row. The win sends the entire girls’ team to the state meet at Sunken Meadow this Saturday. Those seven will be joined there by Whalers Kai Leo and Kyle Feltcher who qualified by finishing among the top of the county’s Class D boys.
Back and Forth
Coach Kinnier captured his team’s determination in describing the championship race: “After one mile Pierson was leading by four. By the second mile Stony Brook had tied the score. After the second mile both Rafaela Gurtler and Amelia Skerys passed Stony Brook’s #2 runner to retake the lead. Brianna Kinnier and Aura Skerys finished ahead of Stony Brook’s #5 runner to seal the victory.”
Keriann FitzPatrick was the first Pierson finisher, placing second overall at 21 minutes, 2 seconds. Rafaela Gurtler was third overall at 23:02, Amelia Skerys, fourth at 23:19, Brianna Kinnier, tenth at 25:30, Aura Skerys, eleventh at 26:35. Olivia Kaminsky and Arielle Chase are the team’s sixth and seventh runners.
Even more impressive was the fact Pierson outran all of the Class C schools and all but three Class B schools. Coach Kinnier called this “truly a great achievement” and expects the team to be in the middle of the state’s 11 Class D schools in Saturday’s meet, a step up from last year’s finish at the back of the pack.
Streak Reaches Ten
Coach Joe Amato calls cross-country “an intrinsic sport, little fans, little press [coverage]. It is you running against the other guys. But it’s a little funny, too; you are also running against yourself. And objectivity is the rule. There’s a clock; there are no teammates to blame.”
Using those aspects of the sport as motivation, Pierson went into the county meet looking to send a runner to the state meet for the tenth consecutive year. By finishing near the top Friday, Kai Leo and Kyle Fletcher proved up to the challenge and will represent the Whalers in Saturday’s meet.
Â “At the beginning of the year I thought [our state rep] would most likely just be Kai. But Kyle Fletcher and Brendan Sheil have been cutting minutes off their times and the set was stage for a great race,” reported Coach Amato. “The temperature and wind provided for good conditions. And at the 300-meter mark Brendan was leading, followed by Kai and then Kyle, with our freshman sensations, Peter Skerys and Paul Dorego, starting out towards the back.”
“Everyone was looking good at the one-mile mark, but once they got to the first set of hills things changed. Brendan fell behind while Kyle moved up some. He’s our mountain goat; the kid loves hills.”
“All along Kai ran close to the top with the boy from Southold, but once everyone hit Cardiac Hill things really changed. Kyle surged, Kai held his position and Peter came out looking like a star. We came in looking good in the home stretch.”
Leo was third overall at 19:14 with Fletcher finishing as the fifth individual and ninth overall to take the final state qualifier position. Skerys came in as the sixth individual and is an alternate should any qualifier become unavailable Saturday.
Looking ahead, Coach Amato said, “Saturday is the big show. The team has two tickets. It will be held at arguably the toughest course in the state in what is predicted to be very bad rain. Cardiac Hill is going to be a challenge for those that have never seen it before; it’s 200 yards of physical and emotional reward and may be one of the toughest tests in New York State athletics.”