In cross country, sometimes it’s the rest that really counts. Gavin Ehlers and the rest of his Westhampton teammates knew that and, perhaps, that’s why September and early October wasn’t so boring after all.
During those first couple weeks of the fall season, Ehlers really wasn’t anywhere to be found. It wasn’t because he was hurt or off to a slow start, or anything of that sort. He was just keeping his legs warm, waiting to release them when the postseason came around in late-October.
And he did.
"When we were training, we knew what it was for," Ehlers said. "We knew it was for this late-season push. We all felt pretty good about it. I think that’s part of the reason we’ve run so well these past couple weeks. This is what we focus on. We weren’t focusing on the Bob Pratt [Invitational] or the Manhattan [Invitational], or the Suffolk Officials [Invitational]. We were focusing on the big stuff because we trusted that we could all perform to get ourselves here."
Ehlers, who ran in only two regular season invitationals, has run expertly in the first four postseason meets of the fall. The latest of which, the state Federation Championships, came Saturday at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls, where he placed fourth on the 5-kilometer course in 15 minutes, 58.2 seconds. He was one of only two Long Islanders to place in the top-20. Deer Park’s Aidan Neilson was 20th in 16:35.3.
LaSalle Institute’s Gitch Hayes won in 15:34.7. Hayes also won the state Class B public school state championship last weekend — Ehlers finished second in that race.
"This week was definitely a much slower start," Ehlers said. "…I think, today, Gitch didn’t really want to do the work to start off the race early on. He let other guys take it, and that kind of kept the pace fairly slow….Once the downhills started, Gitch really tried to open up a gap. I just tried to stick with him. I was able to hang on for a decent bit, but eventually it took a toll and I started falling off."
Ehlers said that controlling his speed on the punishing Bowdoin Park downhills proved challenging.
"I didn’t feel like I could really get into a rhythm," Ehlers said. "It took a lot out of me. By the time it got flat again, in that last 800 [meters] or so, I just didn’t have a whole lot in me to fight guys off."
Ehlers continued: "It was tough to try to balance hammering the downhills as hard as you can to try and stick with Gitch and trying to keep it under control. There were a couple times where I got to the end of the trail and I almost ended up off of it."
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake won the team championship Saturday with 101 points. Westhampton — the highest finishing Long Island team — was sixth with 255. Northport was seventh with 273.
Ehlers season isn’t done yet. He’ll run the Eastbay Northeast Regional next Saturday at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, with a trip to the Eastbay Cross Country championships, held Dec. 11 in San Diego, California, on the line.
"I’ll be looking to mix it up in that front pack and go for broke," Ehlers said. "I’ve got nothing to lose. It’s either my last cross country race or I’m going to San Diego. Might as well give it all I’ve got."
On the girls side, Northport’s Allison Reid was 15th in 18:56.1, the highest Long Island finisher and the only one to place in the top 21. Wheatley’s Julia Schriefer was 22nd in 19:15.5. Cornwall’s Karrie Baloga won in 17:54.7.
Reid, who said she was getting boxed in ‘like crazy’ at the start, used the hills in the second half of the race, and a final straightaway kick, to move into the top 15.
"I knew the race was going to go out hard like it did last week [at the state public school championships]," Reid said. "I went out really competitive and was really competitive throughout the race."
Saratoga Springs won the girls team championship with 28 points. Northport was fourth with 221 and was Long Island’s highest finishing team.