Syosset's Tyler Italiano is the best of the best, and the fastest of the fast, in Nassau County. No matter the class or league, it became clear as he strode all alone down the final straightaway that the junior is on a level altogether different from that of his peers.
Italiano won the Nassau County Individual Championship yesterday at Bethpage State Park, running the 5K in 16 minutes, 18.8 seconds. He finished 11.6 seconds faster than the second place finisher, Joseph Miller of Seaford.
Although the final margin would indicate otherwise, Italiano didn't bust out of the gate at the gun. But, he said, that was by design.
"The goal at the beginning was to pull my teammates along and stick back with them," Italiano said. "Then, at the two mile mark, I looked at [teammate] Simon Nwana and said 'it's time to go.'"
Nwana finished third in 16:35.5.
"Getting out was huge," Nwana said. "Once I did that, I settled into a 5K pace. Tyler and I worked together coming through the two mile mark. Then, he broke away from me and I was just trying to catch people. I stayed strong, positive, and went with the flow."
Nwana credits Italiano with his high finish. "I'm more of a middle distance runner," he said. "When I run with him, there's a huge step up in my performance. He pushes me. Him and I are really competitive, so that really helps a lot."
Syosset, with the help of Italiano and Nwana's high finishes, won the overall team championship, scoring 44 points.
The title was extra sweet for the Braves, who were missing one of their top runners. On Friday, Dale Mittelman was declared ineligible for the meet. Runners must compete in six meets before running in the Nassau County Championships. Because of a hamstring injury suffered earlier in the season, Mittelman only raced in five of the six required contests. A doctors note was not produced in time for him to be eligible for Saturday's race, Nassau Cross Country Coordinator Adam McKenzie said.
If winning a county championship wasn't enough motivation for the Braves, the absence of their teammate certainly was added fuel.
"Winning felt great because we were doing it for Dale," Italiano said. "We were caught off guard by it and were pretty mad."
The victory qualifies Syosset for the New York State Meet, scheduled for next Saturday at Queensbury High School. Wantagh and Oyster Bay also qualified. "I'm a senior, so I have to leave it all out there," Nwana said of the state meet.