WAPPINGERS FALLS, N.Y. - As if to say ‘hey boys, here’s another challenge,’ Mother Nature opened up her threatening skies about 20 minutes prior to the start of the boys state Federation Championship Saturday afternoon. As water gushed onto the already-chilly 5-kilometer Bowdoin Park course, the difficult championship ground got just a little slicker, and a whole lot harder.
But, not even a tidlewave could have made an ounce of difference for St. Anthony’s Mason Gatewood. Gatewood, who placed outside the top 100 in last year’s Federation championship, sealed his status as a distance running powerhouse with a 15:52.4 victory.
“It’s amazing,” Gatewood said. “We’ve come a long way, both as a team and individually, and I’m just really happy to be here . . . A lot of hard work has been put in to get to this moment.”
The win completes Gatewood’s championship-season trifecta. The senior won both the CHSAA League and Intersectional Championships earlier this fall.
Gatewood led slightly at the 1,000 meter mark, running with a small pack before doing enough on the back straightaway to gain a five second advantage over Ithaca’s Silas Derfel. Derfel was second in 15:57.4.
“I just knew that there were 1,000 meters left and it was the Federation Championship. That’s what I wanted, so I just kept pushing until I broke the tape,” Gatewood said.
Gatewood was unsure of exactly how much of a lead he had, continuing to look behind him in the final 50 meters as his approached the finishing line.
“I had no idea where they were,” Gatewood said of his challengers. “I just took a few quick looks over my shoulder to give myself a frame of reference.”
Careful not to get caught in a pack that was loaded with smart racers, Gatewood stayed towards the front from the beginning.
“The race definitely went out hard. That’s always how feds goes,” Gatewood said. “The first half is uphill and very challenging. Once you get through that, you have some long downhills to recover on and really start pushing.”
The top pack stayed together throughout the downhills, with no one using a mid race push to try and lose the field.
“I never felt like I was breaking away or anything like that,” Gatewood said. “I always felt like I had guys with me. Obviously, you always want to put yourself in a position to win.”
In some ways, that positioning began weeks before the actual race with Gatewood, who obviously struggled here a year ago, taking precautions to make sure he didn’t have a repeat performance. Of course, the general arc of his times throughout the season provided a clue that he had greatly improved, but he wasn’t taking any chances. Earlier in the season, Gatewood and his St. Anthony’s teammates took the two-hour ride to train on the course.
“The workout was amazing for us,” Gatewood said. “Going through miles one to two, which is where the workout was, was a huge help. I thought I was familiar with that part of the course. Last year, I was kind of just wallowing and feeling bad for myself because I was in so much pain. This year, I had a goal that I wanted to achieve and that was in my mind the entire race.”
Shelter Island’s Kal Lewis, who won the Class D public school state championship last weekend, finished eighth in 16:24.3. Gatewood and Lewis were the only two Long Islanders to finish in the top ten.
“I got off pretty slow and didn’t get a very good position in the beginning,” Lewis said. “When it started to spread out a bit, I tried to pick it up a little bit more. I got up to the top of the hill in first . . . I was third with about a mile to go and then I just got passed by a couple of people. But, I’m satisfied with my race.”
Burnt Hills- Ballston Lake won the team championship with 80 points. Northport, the highest Long Island finisher, was fourth with 135.