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Sarah Connelly of Mount Sinai in final stretch of decorated high school career

Sarah Connelly of Mount Sinai won the girls

Sarah Connelly of Mount Sinai won the girls Class B race during the Suffolk County cross country state qualifier meet at Sunken Meadow State Park on Nov 2, 2018. Credit: Daniel De Mato

In the grand scheme of things, this is only the beginning for senior Sarah Connelly. But, as far as her Mount Sinai running career goes, it’s the beginning of the end. A year from now she’ll be a college freshman, making this the finale of her decorated high school campaign.

However, Connelly doesn’t see the dawning of September as any kind of ending. She’s got miles to run before leaving her Suffolk high school home.

For runners as immersed in the sport as Connelly, a three-season force who is the returning state Class B public school cross country champion, the end of summer marks the end of an all too brief resting/training period that leads to the unrelenting high school running year. Cross country season bleads into indoor, and then outdoor, track. If you qualify for prestigious post-season meets, which Connelly has in the past and likely will again, the finish line doesn’t come into view until late June. That’s a long time away, no matter what route you take.

But, alas, Connelly’s last go-around, no matter how long, has begun.

“I’ve thought about it a lot,” said Connelly, whose has narrowed her college choices to Providence, Syracuse, Iona, and Stony Brook. “People say to me, 'Are you ready for your senior year?' I’m like, 'All right. Last one, best one.' "

It would be hard to improve upon what Connelly did last fall. She came from behind to win the state Class B public school cross country championship on the Sunken Meadow State Park 5-kilometer course in 18 minutes, 17.7 seconds. Three weeks later, she ran 30th in 17:45.1 at the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon – the most prestigious high school meet in the country.

The performance gave Connelly a new outlook on her ultimate potential. Last November, Connelly said she didn’t even know how to qualify for nationals. Now, she said she considers herself part of the national conversation.

“My goal is to be All-American [top-20], but I really want to stick to going race by race, see how everything goes, and take it from there,” Connelly said. “I don’t want to think too much and break myself.”

Spoken like a true distance runner, Connelly is all about pacing. She knows she’s the defending state Class B public school champion and she knows a top-20 national finish is well within her grasp, but she doesn’t want to think tremendously far ahead. First up was summer training and, as always, she took that very seriously.

“This summer, I’ve been definitely more aggressive," Connelly said. "I feel more confident than I was last year. Last year, I didn’t know what I was capable of. Now, I know what I’m capable of doing. But I don’t want to bring the confidence level too high because that could destroy me.”

While Connelly’s weekly mileage remained virtually unchanged this summer, she said it was accomplished with a higher intensity level and with a heavy emphasis on drill work – not just endless running.

“[Coach Bill Dwyer] is getting more of the form in before the speed,” Connelly said. “I feel great right now. Last year, in the beginning of the season, I might have been feeling good, but [now] I’m sticking with the guys more. ... I feel better this year than I did last year. I just hope that’s a good thing.”

Connelly will have to travel a little bit farther than Kings Park to defend her state title. The public school state championships are scheduled for Nov. 16 in Plattsburgh, a course she has never run. She hopes to return a few weeks later to a course she does know, Glendoveer Golf Course in Portland, Oregon – the site of Nike Cross Nationals.

“[Nike Cross Nationals] was the best running experience that I’ve ever had,” Connelly said. “I would love to have that experience again this year. That’s very motivating to me.”

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