Northport’s Wyeth Semo knows teammate Aidar Matthews so well that he can recognize his footsteps. So, it came as a bit of a shock when Matthews passed Semo in the final 300 meters of the Suffolk Division II boys cross country championships at a damp Sunken Meadow State Park Monday afternoon.
"I actually didn’t know it was my own teammate, I thought it was [Bay Shore’s Jake Rabin]" Semo said of the mystery challenger that was barreling down on him during the final stretch. "I was going to let him catch up to me initially. I didn’t want to kick too early . . . I had to look behind me and got a glimpse of him. That’s how I really knew it was Aidar."
The rain might have dampened everything about Semo on this day, except his resolve. Friend, teammate, or foe, he wasn’t going to let anyone else have that victory. If there is such a thing as bus bragging rights, Semo wanted them.
"It got me a little more nervous, because I know Aidar is really good," Semo said. "He had a really good season last year . . . I knew he still had it in him. What he did today really showed that. I knew he had the potential to beat me, so it really got me nervous, but I really wanted to win so I still had that competitive side."
Semo would not be deterred, passing Matthews in the final 75 meters and winning on the 2.5-mile course in 13 minutes, 26.89 seconds. Matthews, the top Long Island finisher at last season’s state federation cross country championships, was second in 13:28.74. Northport’s Cristian Zabala was third in 13:39.82. Rabin was fourth in 13:42.54. Northport took the Division II team title with 19 points.
"I just gave it all that I had left," Semo said. "I didn’t care about my form. I didn’t even care if I was hurting or not, I just really wanted to win."
Earlier in the afternoon, Commack’s Andrew Rosenblatt won the Division I championship in 13:31.03, outpacing Ward Melville’s Anthony Petrillo by 7.96 seconds. Ward Melville won the Division I team title with 26 points.
Like most races at Sunken Meadow, Rosenblatt said his was won on Cardiac Hill.
"I knew that Cardiac was going to do its work and take kids out one by one, so if I could just stay consistent up there, I knew I’d be in good position," he said.
From a mental perspective, there are different ways to approach Cardiac and many runners will admit that few of them work. But Monday, Rosenblatt’s strategy of running the hill in segments carried him past the field.
"You just have to take it one step at a time and try not to look at it as one big hill and just break it down," he said. "I like to imagine the trees and just get to one tree and then the next one. I think if you look at it as a whole, mentally you’re going to take yourself out of the race."