While the majority of the high school running world had their sights set Saturday on the Bronx — the site of the prestigious Manhattan Invitational — Long Island’s top course was also seeing stars. The Suffolk Officials Cross Country Invitational, at Sunken Meadow State Park, featured a girls field worthy of top billing, featuring the top runner in the country and the top runner on Long Island facing off as the sprint toward the state public school championships, scheduled for Nov. 10 at Sunken Meadow, kicked into high gear.
North Rockland’s Katelyn Tuohy, who by almost any measure is the best runner in the country, shattered the Sunken Meadow 5-kilometer course record and won in 16 minutes, 52.97 seconds. The previous course mark, 17:45.9, was set by Cornwall’s Aisling Cuffe in 2009, according to suffolkxctf.com
Mount Sinai’s Sarah Connelly, currently the top-ranked runner on Long Island based on speed ratings found on tullyrunners.com, finished third in 18:34.72. Olivia Morganti of Syracuse’s Christian Brothers Academy was second in 18:29.02.
Saturday morning’s pounding rain had pretty much stopped by the time Connelly toed the starting line. But the past few wet days certainly had an effect on the course conditions.
“In the moat, there were a couple huge puddles, so you had to go around that,” Connelly said. “But it was good because it was cold. I love the cold when I run.”
The soggy conditions, however, didn’t affect the times. Two other Long Islanders finished in the top 10. Commack’s Fiona McLoughlin was fifth in 19:03.69 and Westhampton’s Jackie Amato was 10th in 20:09.38.
“I had a lot of competition,” Connelly said. “Usually when I don’t have a lot of competition, I think a lot. Having the competition made me focus on that one person and get a good time.”
Tuohy’s reputation precedes her. In much the same way as Shoreham-Wading River’s Katherine Lee last season, Tuohy is a runner who competitors don’t even try to keep up with. Connelly said she doesn’t focus on trying to keep that blistering pace. She just runs her own race, is happy with it, and remains in awe of her top competition.
“We all knew that she was going to get out,” Connelly said of Tuohy. “It was really cool to be part of the race with her, but I knew I wasn’t going to stick with her or anything. So it was just kind of ‘go with the flow’ with the people who were behind her and in front of me.”
It was Tuohy’s first time racing at Sunken Meadow. She said she wanted to make the trip to Long Island before next month’s public school state championships and to dispel a little of Sunken Meadow’s daunting reputation.
“A lot of people told me it was a difficult course, but I didn’t think it was as bad as everyone was saying,” Tuohy said. “I’m very happy that we came down here and practiced, considering it’s going to be the state meet course. I was just doing a workout today. It was a good indication of where I’ll be when the state meet comes around.”
However, despite her favorable review of the course, Tuohy did mention Sunken Meadow’s most infamous feature in her analysis of the tougher parts.
“I think they call it Cardiac Hill,” Tuohy said, describing the portion of the course that haunts Suffolk runners on a weekly basis. “That was pretty steep and pretty long. But even right after, the last mile to the finish is all downhill. So you’re able to recover quick from it.”
In the boys race, only two Long Islanders finished in the top 10. Valley Stream North’s Christian Cicilia was fourth in 17:03.98 and Mattituck’s Christian Demchak was 10th in 17:35.83. Saratoga’s Shea Welibaker won in 15:52.87.
Only two boys, Welibaker and North Rockland’s Daniel Shephard (16:32.70), ran faster than Tuohy.