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Gavin Ehlers uses hills to advantage as Westhampton wins Suffolk Division III title

Gavin Ehlers wins the Division III race in

Gavin Ehlers wins the Division III race in 12:47.68 at Suffolk cross country divisional championships at Sunken Meadow State Park on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Credit: Peter Frutkoff

If there was a way to make Sunken Meadow State Park’s two major hills even more treacherous, it appears as if course makers have done it. It wasn’t that hard either — just make it shorter. Shrinking the postseason course down to 2.5 miles from the traditional 5 kilometers (3.1 miles) — a measure done with COVID protocols in mind — have made Snake and Cardiac Hills come up one after another.

No, the hills haven’t been moved (that would be something) — it just feels like it.

"It’s definitely tough having Snake and Cardiac back-to-back," Westhampton’s Gavin Ehlers said.

"It’s a shorter course, so everything is going a little bit quicker. You can afford to be a little more aggressive on those steep hills. Once you get to the top of Cardiac, you pretty much have a mile and a half that’s almost all downhill."

Ehlers won the Suffolk Division III boys cross country championship Tuesday afternoon, running the truncated course in 12 minutes, 47.68 seconds. That time, along with a second place finish by Trevor Hayes (13:24.73), helped Westhampton win the team title with 31 points.

Ehlers said he wasn’t quite sure what kind of competition he would have in the race, so he made sure to get out strong and have the race in hand by the time he got to the top of Cardiac Hill.

"It’s nice being done quicker on the 2.5," Ehlers said. "The 5k is a long ride and a lot more strategic. I feel like the 2.5 is a ‘go out and hammer it’ kind of race. The 5k allows for more tactics and I’m kind of a fan of that. I’d say I probably prefer the 5k, even if it’s a bit harder."

Port Jefferson’s Brian Veit, who won the Division V championship in 13:09.01, said the heavy impact of the hills doesn’t affect him as much because of where he trains.

"We’re from Port Jeff, home to a bunch of hills," Veit said. "So, we figured we’d attack those hills like we normally do and use those downhills as kind of a recovery."

Veit’s teammate, Grant Samara, was second in the Division V race in 13:25.0 and Port Jefferson won the team title with 40 points.

"Believe it or not, it’s more of like a sprint for me," Veit said. "I just went out as hard as I could and tried to hold it as hard as I could. I didn’t really know what the course was like. I figured I’d just take it flat and see what I could do with it. Looking at the county championship [next week], I’ll probably try and play it more strategically. But that 2.5 was brutal."

Elsewhere, Islip’s Matthew Karabatzoglou won the Division IV race in 14:15.75. Miller Place, led by a second-place finish from Blake Buscemi (14:25.68), won the team title with 42 points.

In the lone girls race of the afternoon, Pierson’s Penelope Greene won the Division V championship in 15:47.23. Mattituck won the team title with 30 points. The other girls divisions are scheduled to compete Wednesday and Thursday.

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