Smithtown’s Michael Danzi made a crucial change to his racing plan earlier this month and, after Tuesday, can call himself the fastest runner in Suffolk County. Danzi, a senior, won the overall Suffolk Division cross country championship at Sunken Meadow State Park, running the 5-kilometer course in 16 minutes, 22.21 seconds on a sloppy, rainy afternoon.
The victory helped Smithtown clinch the overall team championship with 60 points. It was its third overall Division championship in the last four years. Miller Place senior Tom Cirrito was second in 16:27.30 and Westhampton sophomore Gavin Ehlers was third in 16:31.68.
Danzi said energy conservation early in the race keyed his victory. While this is a common refrain from distance runners this time of year, the strategy was a bit of a recent revelation for Danzi, who had been going out too hard early in the season.
“I didn’t have enough strength to get the times I wanted,” said Danzi, who attends Smithtown West. “Once I switched up my racing style midway through the season, it really helped me.”
Danzi’s big breakthrough came at the Brown Northeast Invitational in Warwick, Rhode Island, on Oct. 19, when he won the championship 5K in 15:29.24, a personal best, according to milesplit.com.
“It gave me a strategy,” Danzi said. “That’s where I started staying conservative and then going [out later]. It worked for me there, so I was going to repeat that same style and move up in the middle of the race and keep going from there.”
Danzi still had to account for the Sunken Meadow course, which is a great deal slower than the Brown course. While the Brown course is known for its speed, Sunken Meadow is known for its challenges and punishing hills. In fact, many believe it’s the hardest course in the state.
“I knew I needed to make the adjustment,” Danzi said. “I’ve been racing here since I was in eighth grade. I know how this course works and I just knew I needed a small adjustment, just go out a little bit slower than I would at a fast, flat 5K.”
Danzi continued: “After the first hill, that’s when I really started to make a move up to the front part of the race and keep going from there.”
As for the team championship, Danzi gave all the credit to Smithtown coach Peter Schieck, who has won multiple Newsday cross country Coach of the Year awards. Danzi was one of three Smithtown runners in the top-10. Senior Daniel Sabia was seventh in 17:06.20 and senior Brayden Vassilas was 10th in 17:11.72.
“It’s great coaching,” Danzi said. “He knows what he’s doing. He knows what we need to do as a team and he knows how to win in the important races.”