This past fall was a breakout season for the East Hampton High School boys and girls cross-country teams.
Kevin Barry, the boys coach, recently said that although he had the youngest team in the county, it was the best squad he’d had in five years, and, in time, might well prove to be the best he’s had in a decade.
“We won county championships in 2001 and ’02, with Chris Reich [who now coaches the boys winter and spring teams] and Joe Sullivan and the Ahearn twins. . . . That was a long time ago, but these kids seem to want it.”
“My team,” said the girls coach, Diane O’Donnell, “was probably the best I’ve had in eight years. I’ve had good individuals in that span, but not the seven consistent scorers that I had this year. It was a very exciting season, though, because of the hurricane and the cancellation of the state qualifier meet, it ended with a whimper.”
Likewise, because of the superstorm, Barry’s top three freshmen — Erik Engstrom, Jackson Rafferty, and T.J. Paradiso — weren’t able to compete in the county’s freshman-sophomore meet. Had they and their fellow ninth graders done so, “I think we would have finished in the top three,” said the coach, who added that Engstrom, the county’s second-ranked freshman runner, had, because of his 18th-place finish in the recent Foot Locker regional meet at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, been ranked 13th among all the freshmen in New York State.
The Van Cortlandt race for freshmen “from Maryland to Maine” was one and a half miles long (high school cross-country courses are usually 3.1 miles). Engstrom ran it in 7 minutes and 53 seconds, good for 18th place among 147 entrants.
The boys finished the league season with a 4-3 record. Their losses were by narrow margins. “One,” said Barry, “was by two points, one was by three, and one, to league-champion Harborfields, was by five. The Shoreham coach — he was the state’s coach of the year two years ago — gave us a big compliment when he said, after seeing our scores at the meet with Harborfields, ‘East Hampton’s back.’ ”
Adam Cebulski, a junior, who was East Hampton’s number-one (followed by Engstrom, Thomas Brierley, a junior, Rafferty, Jack Link, a sophomore, Paradiso, and Paul King, a first-time sophomore) broke Reich’s mark at Indian Island, the Riverhead course that has served as the site for East Hampton’s “home” meets in recent years, by running the 5K course in 16:57.
“Erik pretty much rewrote the record book for East Hampton freshmen, in the mile and a half, the 3-mile, and in the 5K — at Indian Island and Sunken Meadow,” said Barry. “Chris Reich had a few of those records too.”
As for the winter, Barry said, “T.J. and Thomas are swimming, but others are doing winter track.”
One reason the boys had been so good, said Barry, was that Cebulski’s younger sister, Dana, a sophomore who has been to the state cross-country meet in each of the past two years, pushed them in practice.
“The girls and boys train together and they travel to meets together, so there’s a great camaraderie, probably more so than in any other sport,” said O’Donnell.
“Oh yes, she’ll improve every year,” O’Donnell said in answer to a question. “Her best time at Indian Island this fall was a very solid 19:43, in the meet with Westhampton. She was second, but a very close second. Her best 3-mile time at Sunken Meadow, which is a very tough course, was 19:38.”
Cebulski, who took over at number-one last year when Ashley West (now doing very well at Susquehanna University) became injured, was the team’s number-one this fall, followed by Jennie DiSunno, a senior, Jackie Messemer, a sophomore, Emma Newburger, a junior, Devon Brown, a ninth grader, Jamie Staubitser, a senior, Merissah Gilbert, a sophomore, and Brittany Rivkind, a junior.
O’Donnell also has her eye on “a couple of other young runners [one being Liana Paradiso] Bill [Herzog] had on his middle school team this year. . . . Liana’s an eighth grader. We’ll find out in August whether she’ll be able to come up next fall.”
She and Barry and Herzog are planning to oversee workouts for the boys and girls this summer, to keep them sharp.
Barry added that he and O’Donnell hope to get a 2.7-mile course he’s laid out at Cedar Point County Park certified by the county’s head track official, Tony Toro, so that the teams will be able to hold two home meets there next fall — for the first time in at least 20 years.