Things happen quickly in track and field. Just ask Ward Melville's Alesia Muklebust. On Tuesday, the senior practiced the steeplechase for the first time. Yesterday, she won the 2,000-meter steeplechase in seven minutes, 8.96 seconds at the Port Jefferson Steeple Fest "Plus," held at Port Jefferson High School.
"It wasn't that bad," Muklebust said of the typically grueling race. "The water was freezing, but you got through it. It numbs you, so it kind of feels good."
Muklebust is both a hurdler and a jumper, skills that she believes benefit her in the steeplechase. "I loved it," she said. "I like how it's not just running. The hurdles distract you from the running part. It's not as boring. I wanted to do it because it involves hurdling and jumping. I also just became a long distance runner, so I figured I'd try this out. It incorporates all my events."
After playing soccer as an underclassmen, Muklebust finished her first season of cross country this fall.
Early in the race, Muklebust found herself in fourth place, looking to move up toward North Babylon's Jessica Scheriff, who spent the majority of the race pacing the field. "I just told myself 'get past her,'" Muklebust said. "It's all mental."
Sticking to her race plan, she passed Scheriff on the second-to-last lap. "I kept my pace well," Muklebust said. "I really don't have a specific number in mind. I just go."
The senior cleared the final water jump effortlessly, allowing her to gain enough distance on Scheriff to hold her off on the final straightaway. "I told myself, 'this is it,' " Muklebust said. "I had to do well on that final one. It was my last chance or else she might've caught up to me. I knew that I didn't want her to catch up to me. I had to make that one my best jump."
After one steeplechase victory, she appears to be hooked.
"I think I'm going to do this a lot," she said.
Scheriff finished in second in 7:12.22.
West Islip's Craig Nelson won the 3,000-meter steeplechase in 9:53.73. Unlike Muklebust, Nelson is a veteran of the event. This is his third year running it. Even though Nelson won the event by nearly five seconds, topping Huntington's Nick Sherman (9:58.28), he still sprinted down the final straightaway as if the race was still in doubt. "Last year, I got out-kicked and finished second," Nelson said. "This year, I had to come in ready to go."