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Friends' Paige Duca wins 800 meters, qualifying for state championship

Friends Academy's Paige Duca, left, on her way

Friends Academy's Paige Duca, left, on her way to winning the girls Division I 800-meter run at the Nassau state qualifier on Thursday, June 4, 2015. Credit: Richard T. Slattery

When Friends Academy's Paige Duca first looked at the schedule for the New York State Track and Field Championships, slated for next Friday and Saturday at SUNY- Albany, she couldn't help but feel a little let down.

Both of her main events, the 1,500 meters and the 2,000-meter steeplechase, were scheduled for Saturday, the same day as her high school graduation.

"I was disappointed because I wanted to race against the [state] competition in the steeplechase," she said. "I've won all my steeplechase races this year. I haven't had much competition to get a fast time."

Rather than wallow in the unfortunate nature of the scheduling conflict, Duca compromised and attempted to qualify for the 800 meters, scheduled for next Friday's state championship session.

That quest was successful. Duca won the 800 meters in 2 minutes, 16.44 seconds on the first day of the Nassau State Qualifier Meet, held Thursday at Cold Spring Harbor High School.

Duca was passed on the back straightaway but kicked in the final 200 meters to bring home the win.

"I just surged and gave it everything I had," she said. "I kept going because I didn't want to get out-kicked again."

Duca, who will attend Boston College in the fall, is no stranger to state competition. She won the New York State Indoor 1,500-meter championship in March.

North Shore eighth grader Cailey Welch qualified for the Division I 800 meters at the state championships, finishing in 2:18.99.

East Meadow's Michael Grady, fresh off three gold medals in last week's Class AAA championships, won the boys 800 meters in 1:55.88. Grady said he used a similar tactic to what he used to win the 1,600 and 800 meters last week, sitting on the leaders and kicking toward the end of the race.

"It was supposed to be the same game plan as last week, but it didn't go as planned this time," Grady said. "I waited a little bit longer to go. Because they were a strong field, I didn't want to go too early and be dead at the last straightaway. I waited until 200 meters left and gave it a hard 200 to break the field, hoping to get the win."

Bethpage's Deniz Soybas won the boys Division I 400 meters in 50.06 seconds.

"I kicked in the second 200 meters and led it out the whole way," Soybas said.

Soybas, who plays basketball for Bethpage in the winter, began running spring track last season after deciding to stop playing spring AAU basketball.

"I decided to run track to stay in shape," he said. "But, I never thought that it would come to this point."

Malverne's Christopher Meacham won the Division II 400 meters in 50.39 seconds, outpacing Wheatley's Alec Bernstein down the home straightaway. Bernstein was second in :51.03.

"I noticed that [Bernstein] was keeping the same pace," Meacham said. "He started to slow down a bit on the final curve. That's when I started to kick it into high gear. That last 50 meters, I breathed deeply, brought my arms up, used all the energy I had, and pushed my way through."

Next week will be Meacham's second trip to the spring state championships in the 400 meters. Last year, he was eliminated short of the finals, he said.

"It feels like a second chance," Meacham said. "Now, I know what my competition is and what I have to do to get better."

Manhasset's Kiyah Owens won the girls Division I 400 meters in 57.56 seconds. Clarke's Lauren Bower will be Nassau's Division II representative, winning her race in 59.19 seconds.


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