Video highlights from the CHSAA boys and girls cross country meet at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Credit: Newsday / Mike Ruiz

At an all-new course on the 90-acre campus of Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset, the Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA opened up boys and girls cross country competition on Saturday afternoon, marking the highly-anticipated debut of the league’s 2020 fall season.

And it eventually turned into the St. Anthony’s Show, as a pair of senior Friars in Kelly Parker (16 minutes, 51.58 seconds) and Luke Connolly (13:48.31) came away with victories in both the girls and boys 2.5-mile varsity run, respectively.

"I was definitely excited to get back out," Parker said following one of Long Island’s first high school sporting events dating back to March, prior to the cancellation of the spring 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. "It’s been more than six months since we’ve raced so I was definitely happy to get back out there with all the girls."

"It was very mentally difficult to go so long without actually competing," said Connolly, who also earned his first-ever varsity win. "But today ended up being very rewarding."

Parker’s teammate Caelan Schretzmayer, finished second (16:58.13) and Sacred Heart’s Marie Naudus placed third (16:59.89). On the boys side, Robert Doherty of St. Anthony’s placed second (13:55.36) and Chaminade’s Jake Orfano finished third (13:57.94).

The CHSAA constructed the course at Our Lady of Mercy after ultimately deciding not to compete at the familiar Sunken Meadow State Park while awaiting a decision on its permit application.

"I definitely thought it was a good course," Connolly said. "I felt like it was well-mapped out. The downhill at the very end isn’t something you see on regular courses. I liked that."

Luke Connolly of St. Anthony's sets the pace during a...

Luke Connolly of St. Anthony's sets the pace during a Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA = boys cross country race at Our Lady of Mercy Academy in Syosset on Saturday. Credit: James Escher

"We’re elated and so are the kids and administration," St. Anthony’s girls cross country coach Olivier St. Aude said. "There was a lot of excitement and jitters, but overall we can’t say anything bad about the course or coming here. The kids were very happy to compete and we’re very thankful to Our Lady of Mercy for opening up their property."

The CHSAA announced on Sep. 11 that sports Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said were deemed low-risk by the state – cross country, flag football, boys and girls soccer, girls tennis and girls swimming – will be played during the fall season. Nassau and Suffolk county public schools, however, announced that high school sports will be postponed until 2021.

The boys and girls sides each featured three different levels of races throughout the day – varsity, junior varsity and freshman – combining for a total of six races. A total of 50 runners participated in each event, with a maximum of seven per team spread out across the approximately 100-foot starting line as part of several new protocols that will remain in place through season’s end.

Competitors were required to wear masks at both the starting and finishing lines, but also had the option to pull them down during the race if breathing became difficult.

"It was definitely different wearing a mask," Parker said. "But honestly I wasn’t thinking about it during the race. I was just trying to stay focused on my goal. It didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would."

Spectators were not permitted, with only runners, coaches, officials and designated media members in attendance.

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