Sarah Connelly has fully embraced the challenge of being atop the Suffolk girls cross country mantle. The Mount Sinai junior has not only become the face of one of the state’s best counties, but has also shown substantial elements of what many believe makes the sport so unique — the tremendous sportsmanship between competitors.
So after winning the 5-kilometer Suffolk Division Championship race in a dominating 18 minutes, 49.42 seconds Tuesday afternoon at Sunken Meadow State Park, Connelly was right back at the finish line, slapping the hands of the next 20 or so finishers. It’s a practice she adopted from former teammate Noreen Guilfoyle.
“It feels great,” Connelly said of being the top girl in Suffolk. “But you do have to watch because any minute, any day, it could go downhill. You have to keep your confidence high and just be nice to everyone. I got the high fiving thing from [Guilfoyle], who was very nice and sportsmanlike. So, I continued that.”
Connelly became the first person runners saw when they entered the sorting chute after crossing the finish line. That may have been the first time a lot of them saw Connelly all day. The winner stayed with the top pack until Snake Hill, then dashed off to a soon-to-be-insurmountable lead.
“I passed a lot of [the field] and I said, ‘you know what, I think this is going to be it,’ ” Connelly said.
Once she took the lead for good, all Connelly could do was create competition in her mind — a thinking runner’s technique that is often the only thing that pulls leaders to fast times in lopsided races.
“I just focused on imaging that someone was in front of me and I was just trying to pass that person,” Connelly said.
While Connelly had no runners to battle on the second half of the course, she did have to fight off a cramp that popped up as she began to climb Cardiac Hill.
“I ignored it,” Connelly said. “I felt it and I just said ‘you know what, focus on pace, ignore this, and keep your hips under,’ and I barely felt it anymore.”
Commack’s Fiona McLoughlin was second in 19:14.70 and Bay Shore’s Roshni Singh was third in 19:26.28. McLoughlin said that Sunken Meadow’s dry ground made the course very sandy in the back woods and on Cardiac Hill — an increased challenge on an already challenging course.
“Last week at the Suffolk Track Officials Invitational, it was more packed down because of the rain,” McLoughlin said. “The sand makes it more slippery. You have to be more cautious about the ground. I tried to stay on the more compact sand as much as I could.”
Sachem East won the team title with 122 points. Smithtown was second with 130. Sachem East placed two runners in the top-10. Melissa Merone was sixth in 19:44.77 and Lindsey Dodenhoff was 10th in 19:59.18.