After all the accolades, all the awards, and all the championships, it would be easy to think that the four Northport runners on the 4 x mile team would be brimming with confidence as soon as they throw the familiar jersey over their heads and onto their sleek frames.
But that's not true, senior runner Jack McGowan said. Even though the team has many accomplishments this school year, McGowan still felt that familiar twinge of uncertainty as he waited for his twin brother, Tim, to hand him the baton at the Brooks PR Invitational, held June 21 at Renton Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
"We always get nervous in every race," Jack said. "Even when we know we can do it, we always think 'what if?' "
The "what if?'' on June 21 turned into another victory, this time in 17 minutes, 6.92 seconds, besting second-place Nathan Hale (Seattle) by 11.89 seconds. The team, composed of the McGowan twins, Justin Leopold and Mike Brannigan, fell 0.3 seconds short of the national record, set by Eugene (Ore.) South in 1976.
However, they did break the state record of 17:18.33 set by Fayetteville-Manlius in 2006, according to Tullyrunners.com.
"Our goal going into it was to get the state record, which we demolished," Leopold said. "We weren't focusing on the national record, but we knew if we ran well, we'd have a pretty good shot."
Jack McGowan, who ran the third leg, said he fell behind Gig Harbor (Wash.) before kicking into high gear and handing off the lead to Brannigan, who ran anchor.
"A lot of me said 'oh no, this is over,' " Jack said. "But I had to keep telling myself 'keep going, you'll find a way.' "
And he did. Then Brannigan, as he usually does, delivered a big performance.
"I had a big, open gap and kept on pushing," Brannigan said. "I ran a personal-best split. Our team accomplished a big goal. It was one of the [greatest] memories in all our lives."
And that's saying something. The team won the 4 x mile national title at the New Balance Nationals in Greensboro, North Carolina, on June 15.
Next year, only Brannigan will remain on the roster. The McGowan twins will head to Roger Williams in Rhode Island, and Leopold will run at Elon in North Carolina. Behind them, they leave nothing but dust and records.
"It's the end of an era," Jack said. "Each season changed my life. Each bad race, and good race, made me stronger. Everything we've done is something we can all be proud of. Looking back, we can tell stories about how we all did that."
Smithtown West's Ben Bonhurst, Newsday's All-LI Athlete of the Year, was named Gatorade Track and Field Player of the Year for New York State. Bonhurst won both the winter and spring shot put state and national titles.