A year ago, a bit of underestimation led to a disappointing end to Mason Gatewood’s inaugural cross country season. The St. Anthony’s distance standout was still a bit of a 5-kilometer novice when he stepped on the line at Bowdoin Park in Wappingers Falls for the state Federation championship.
The inexperience manifested itself in forgettable fashion, a finish outside the top 100 racers.
“Last year, the hills were a huge factor in the disappointment I had there,” Gatewood said. “I was unprepared for the race and how hard it went out.”
That doesn’t figure to happen again. The senior has transformed himself into one of the best distance runners in the state and is a favorite to take home gold at this Saturday’s Federation meet, a race that pits the best runners in the state, regardless of class, against each other, at Bowdoin Park.
Gatewood, who opened the week ranked second in the state on tullyrunners.com, is coming off a dominant victory at the 89th CHSAA Intersectional championships at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx last Saturday. Gatewood ran the 2.5-mile course in 12 minutes, 40.81 seconds, 9.8 seconds faster than the field. The performance earned him Newsday Athlete of the Week honors.
It didn’t take long for Gatewood to break away from the pack, taking the race out fast and daring his competition to keep up.
“I figured I’d run my own race plan,” Gatewood said. “My coach [Tim Dearie] and I talked about it before the race and he instructed me to run hard from the gun and give the race a solid effort. I was just planning to adapt to whatever happened in the race. As it turned out, I did end up breaking away fairly early in the race, which we were prepared for.”
Gatewood lowered his time from last year’s Intersectionals by nearly 30 seconds, a shining example of how far he’s come on the trails.
“It was definitely a special moment,” Gatewood said of winning. “Obviously, the Intersectional meet is really important to us as a team, and a school, because we’re racing all the Catholic schools. It’s something that [Dearie] and I identified as a feasible target. We definitely gave it a good go as a team and ended up finishing second, which was also really special. We’ve had our ups and downs and to come that far as a unit was really great.”
Besting the entire CHSAA is great but now, a runner who spent last fall getting his distance sea legs has a serious chance test to win one of the top meets of the year.
So, with all the cards on the table and warm-up races in the rearview, does he think he can do it?
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I always want to put myself in a position to win the meets that I’m in . . . I’m confident about my chances. Obviously, I know that’s going to be a really tough race and a lot of great competitors are going to be in there. But, if I’m not confident in my chances to win the race then I might as well not be lining up.”