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SportsHigh SchoolCross Country

The rise of Riverhead cross country

Christina Yakaboski of Riverhead takes third place in

Christina Yakaboski of Riverhead takes third place in the Girls Varsity B 5k race during the Suffolk Coaches Invitational Cross Country meet at Sunken Meadow State Park on Sept. 28, 2019. Credit: Daniel De Mato

Christina Yakaboski sees herself on the ground floor of Riverhead girls cross country success. And she has significant reason to believe that.

Riverhead won the team title with 93 points in the Division II varsity race at the Brown Northeast Invitational in Warwick, Rhode Island, last weekend, one of the top showcases of the regular season and a fine tune-up for the fast approaching postseason.

“I don’t know if anyone really expected to be this successful this season,” said Yakaboski, a senior who finished seventh in 18 minutes, 59 seconds on the 5-kilometer course. “We knew we were going to be good, but to be able to go up against these big teams and be able to win and give them good competition is new to our program. I think going into future meets and future years, other teams are going to take us seriously and know that we can have good runners to compete with the top girls.”

Forget the future for a second, though. With the postseason in Suffolk set to begin Tuesday with the Division Championships at Sunken Meadow State Park, Riverhead already has proven a force to be reckoned with.

Senior Megan Kielbasa was the fastest Riverhead finisher at Brown, placing fifth in 18:53. Familiarity with the course helped a great deal, she said.

“We always know that the Brown course is the fastest of all the courses we run,” Kielbasa said. “…We know where the downhills are versus the uphills, what parts of the course you can open up your stride and get a little faster, and how far you are from the finish line at different points.”

It also helped that Riverhead knew a lot of their competition in the Long Island-heavy race. Kielbasa said she used Bay Shore’s Sydney Carpenter to pace herself throughout the race. Carpenter was sixth in 18:57.

Kielbasa said she is having the best season of her high school career. She credits her intense summer training – over 100 miles by the end of August – with the breakthrough.

“I felt more fresh and more prepared,” she said.

For Yakaboski, the season started slower than she would have liked. An early summer injury sidelined her until mid-August, she said. From a training perspective, the setback made September more of a building-up period than anything else. But, the seventh place finish at Brown is a pretty good indicator that she’s on her way to where she wants to be.

“From the first practice back to now, I can see how running has become easier during the last few weeks,” Yakaboski said. “That’s definitely good to know. Going into the winter season, I feel like I’ll be 100 percent back.”

Years from now, Yakaboski hopes that the fall of 2019 will be looked at as the beginning of something long-lasting and, possibly, a string of state meet berths.

“It’s definitely exciting,” she said. “I know in future years, when I’m gone, I’m going to look back at the team and come back to practices and meets and see how things are going. I’m excited for the younger girls who are maybe in middle school or younger to come into a program like this because I definitely think we’re going upwards.”

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