For nearly a month, the West Islip 4x800 meter relay team ruled the country. From Hawaii to Oklahoma to the snowy mountains of Maine, no quartet could beat their Suffolk County record time of seven minutes, 50.01 seconds, run at the Armory Track Invitational on Feb. 6.
That was until this past Saturday when Pennsylvania’s State College Area High School knocked them off their perch, running a 7:48.29 at the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association Indoor State Championships at Penn State.
After being consistently shocked that the time was still standing throughout the sport’s most competitive month, the team composed of Michael Martiny, Charles Hetterich, Daniel Cameron, and Kyle Kelly, saw the bump to second as an opportunity.
“We have to train harder than we have been before,” Martiny said. “Even though we had been training hard, we have to step up to the next level, just to shave off those two seconds or even tie it.”
But, for this week anyway, regaining the top spot in the country will have to take a back seat. A state championship is more important to them than any national mark.
“No matter what happened this season, being first or second in the nation and all these big races, we always kept saying that states was the goal,” Hetterich said. “Those things were cool, but states has been our main goal the entire season.”
And that is the exact mentality coach Anthony Yuli has preached to the team for weeks. Top U.S. times fade, but state championships are forever.
“You can have the fastest time in the nation, but what does it mean if you don’t win a state championship?” Yuli said. “What are you going to say, ‘We took second in the state, but we have the fastest time in the nation’? You have to do it when it counts.”
The magic 7:50.01 is still the top time in the state entering Saturday’s state championship at Cornell University in Ithaca. They are the top seed in the event. Arlington, with a seed time of 7:54.43, is the next fastest unit.
“We’re the team to beat and we don’t want to take anybody lightly,” Cameron said. “They’re are other great teams in the state that have come close to us in a couple meets. So we aren’t going to take anybody lightly, but it’s good to stay confident.”
The team believes they have a advantage over the competition because they ran their county races at Suffolk County Community College, a flat track that is similar to the surface they will be running on at Cornell’s Barton Hall.
“We have to treat it like we’re running at Suffolk and try to run at least a 7:55,” Kelly said. “I think we’d solidify the win with that.”