Melanie Notarstefano of Sachem East High School crosses the finish...

Melanie Notarstefano of Sachem East High School crosses the finish line during the Girls 400 meter dash. (June 10, 2011) Credit: Kevin Colton

Melanie Notarstefano couldn't have asked for a better birthday present.

The Sachem East senior celebrated her 18th birthday by using a late kick with 200 meters to go to lift her Flaming Arrows 4x800 team to a victory in yesterday's Suffolk state qualifying meet at Port Jefferson -- and, more importantly, a berth at next week's state meet.

The team of Laurie Semetsis, Nicole Silvestre, Rachel Paul, and Notarstefano finished in 9:12.99 to advance to the state meet Friday and Saturday at Cicero-North Syracuse.

Bay Shore took second in 9:15.76 to join the Flaming Arrows in the large schools division, while Bayport-Blue Point (9:30.14) advanced from the small schools.

"I'm just so happy right now," Notarstefano said. "I pretty much got everything I wanted today."

Notarstefano came into the race with high expectations, a constant reminder of which was written in black marker on the inside of her left wrist. There, the senior had written "2:15" -- the split that she hoped to hit as the anchor leg -- with an infinity sign directly below it.

"It just means to keep going no matter what," Notarstefano said of the sign on her wrist. "To never give up, to go get it."

Sachem East's win didn't come without some late-race drama. The Flaming Arrows found themselves in third place at the halfway mark, about 90 meters behind Northport and Bay Shore. But Paul, taking the baton in third place, erased a 90-meter deficit to give her team the lead at the final handoff.

"I started track with Mel, and I didn't want our season to end today," Paul said. "The entire time out there, I was thinking of her."

Notarstefano traded that lead with Northport's Brigid Brennan through the first 600 meters of the final leg before making her move with half a lap to go to take the lead for good. Notarstefano's final split? 2:15.

"Being the anchor leg, everything's in your hands," she said. "So with 200 left, it was just everything you've got. And I got the time I was hoping for, so it's just a great day."

It's a step in the right direction for the same 4x800 team that took second overall in the indoor state meet last March at Cornell. This time they're eyeing to do one place better.

"To have another chance to get that top spot with this group is amazing," Semetsis said. "It's great that it's not over yet."

In addition to the 4x800, Paul also qualified for states in the 1,500. Paul took the lead from the opening gun and never looked back, cruising to a win in 4:36.78

"I just went into it trying to stay as comfortable as I can and save something for the kick if someone tried to challenge," Paul said. "I really wanted to save my energy for the 4x800."

For now, the team has more important things on their mind -- like how to celebrate Notarstefano's birthday.

Said Notarstefano with a laugh: "We're going to eat cake and have a good time."

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