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Gerland, Gallagher lead talented Garden City girls track

Emma Gallagher anchoring Garden City in the Super

Emma Gallagher anchoring Garden City in the Super Runners Metropolitan High School girl's 4 x 800 where the team placed first in a time of 9:00.92. (Feb. 11, 2012) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

Word problems are scary. Here's one that's sure to keep most of the Long Island girls track scene up at night. What do you get when you take a distance runner coming off an outstanding cross-country season, highlighted by a trip to a national meet, and add a two-time defending state champion middle-distance runner who is well-rested, ready to go, and preparing to make a run at a national record?

The answer, of course, is Garden City. Looking for their eighth consecutive Nassau County title, the Trojans boast a one-two punch that is downright dangerous.

First, there's Steph Gerland, a sophomore who turned heads with an impressive cross country season. Gerland won the Nassau Championship, was sixth at the State Federation meet, and qualified for the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Ore.

Gerland will compete this winter in the 1,500 and 3,000 meters, itching to get back to the state championships after failing to qualify last season.

"I got faster and stronger," Gerland said. "That will help me in the 3,000 and the 1,500."

Then there's Emma Gallagher, a middle-distance runner with so much talent and respect that she was invited to run with Olympians in the Howard Schmertz women's 600 at February's Millrose Games. Gallagher won the 600 at the State Championships last year in 1 minute, 33.17 seconds. She also anchors a 4 x 400 relay team that is looking to win its third consecutive state title.

On top of continuing her state championship legacy, Gallagher would like to etch her name in the national record book, something she was a little more than one second away from doing last season. Gallagher ran 1:30.35 in the 600 last February. The national record is 1:29.27, set by Janine Davis of Queen of Peace High School in North Arlington, N.J., in 2005, coach Erica Fregosi said.

Both Gallagher and Gerland know that it will take a lot more than outstanding, or even record-setting, individual years to keep the county title streak alive. That's where Garden City's impressive depth comes in.

Like her younger sister, Jen Gerland is a threat in distance events. She was fifth in the 1,500 at the county championships last season and finished second to Steph at the Nassau Class II cross-country championships this fall.

Laura Jaeger, Emily Cafaro, Kelly Punturo and Kelly Lawkins anchor the sprinting unit. Each can contribute in distances from 55 to 400 meters.

"I like the 400 because it takes more than just running," Lawkins said. "You have to have a good mind-set to run it well."

With spots on the 4 x 400 up for grabs, the four sprinters see each day as a chance to prove themselves and make each other better. This "competition within a competition" is only an advantage when they step on the track at a major invitational.

"Every practice is like a race for us," Punturo said.

And if Garden City has proven anything in the last seven years, it's not to bet against them in a race, especially down the home stretch.

"We train for the last 100 meters of the 400," Cafaro said. "That's what makes the difference at the end of the race."

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