Mt. Sinai’s Sarah Connelly knows every meter of the 5-kilometer course at Sunken Meadow State Park - backwards and forwards. And that’s a good thing, because she needed every inch Saturday morning. Connelly came from behind to outsprint Olivia Morganti of Syracuse Christian Brothers Academy and win the state Class B girls cross country public school championship in 18 minutes, 17.7 seconds.
Morganti was second in 18:21.2.
“Everyone on the side when I was coming down the straight-away into the moat was screaming ‘this is your home course. You got this, you can get her.’ That just made me feel that I needed to get her,” Connelly said.
Connelly said she trailed Morganti throughout the race, keeping her in sight until the final 200 meters when the top runner in Suffolk sprinted ahead and took control of the race.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to catch (Morganti) this entire race,” Connelly said. “On Cardiac (Hill), I saw she was struggling a little bit, so I thought that was a good chance to get closer to her.”
Once she pulled even with Morganti and had the finish line in sight, Connelly knew that only unfailing grit would win out. It was a contest of wills and Connelly refused to lose.
“I was like, ‘we’ve practiced these 200’s, we’ve practiced the sprinting, we’ve practiced so much and I can get her,’” Connelly said. “(Morganti) definitely wasn’t slowing down. It was just me knowing that I could sprint the last 200 and catch her.”
The prospect of a state championship at Sunken Meadow has dominated the thoughts and minds of many Suffolk runners this season. Sunken Meadow is such a part of the cross country season that the course has become, in and of itself, a major part of each fall – akin to another opponent. Suffolk teams run the majority of their races there, including both the division championships and the state qualifier. Many teams even practice there, training on the punishing hills multiple times a week.
Connelly said she had accepted the idea of finishing second to Morganti but, once she stepped foot on the infamously difficult Cardiac Hill, she realized what winning a state championship in Suffolk County would mean.
“I thought ‘this is where I have to be,’” Connelly said.
Connelly is part of a recent trend of Long Island dominance in the state’s second-biggest class. The last four years have seen four Long Island winners in Class B. Former Shoreham – Wading River runner Katherine Lee won three of those titles and former North Shore standout Diana Vizza won another.
“It feels amazing,” Connelly said. “(Morganti) was good and I knew that she was good. I knew I had to worry about her. But I prepped for that all week, to make sure that I had a chance to win.”
Connelly’s teammate, Kaitlyn Chandrika was seventh in 19:17.8.
Elsewhere, Bay Shore’s Roshni Singh finished eighth in Class A in 18:54.1 – a personal best, she said. North Rockland’s Katelyn Tuohy, who is considered by most to be the best runner in the country, won in 17:02.1.
“Because it’s states, it goes out faster,” Singh said. “So, by the time you get to the hills, you’re a little more tired.”
Mattituck’s Ava Vaccarella was eighth in Class C in 19:57.8.