Bettering her division meet time by nine seconds, Dana Cebulski, East Hampton High’s freshman phenom, placed fifth in the county Class B girls race at Sunken Meadow State Park Friday, a finish that enabled her to become the first female runner from Bonac ever to advance to the state meet in the sport, whose program was begun here in 1991.
Also as a result, she was named to the all-county second team, another “first.”
Moreover, her time of 20 minutes and 20.06 seconds set an East Hampton High School record for Sunken Meadow’s 5K course, a record that East Hampton’s girls coach, Diane O’Donnell, thinks will be hard to beat.
Asked if Dana, an all-around athlete, according to her mother, Nidia, was the best runner she’d ever had, O’Donnell said, “Certainly she’s the most talented freshman runner I’ve ever had. She has that competitive drive, though she’s still got things to learn.”
While the day was an elating one for Cebulski, who covered the course, which includes two big hills (Snake and Cardiac) and several smaller ones, in the aforementioned 20:20.06, it was a very disappointing one for East Hampton’s star senior, Ashley West.
Absent a stress fracture in her left shinbone, “Ashley would have been right there too — in the top seven,” said O’Donnell. “I wish it had happened for her — she’s put so much into it.”
West, who has been rehabbing the injury and who forwent the division race in order to give herself a better chance in the county one, pulled out in pain on emerging into a clearing from a short uphill known as the Mousetrap a little more than a half-mile in.
She was in tears afterward, “but there were a lot of other girls in tears that day,” said O’Donnell. “Girls who had expectations but who, for whatever reason, didn’t realize them.”
O’Donnell and Bill Herzog, who, as the East Hampton Middle School coach usually is the first to spot the talented young runners here, and who helps see them through their high school careers, strongly advised West to take the winter off so that she would not risk further aggravating the injury. “That way, she’ll come back strong in the spring and have a great finish to her high school career,” O’Donnell said.
Regarding the race, which took the some 78 competitors over a hilly 3.1-mile course that is ranked as the fifth-toughest in the entire Northeast, O’Donnell said, “Dana did exactly what she, and I, and Kevin [Barry, East Hampton’s boys coach] agreed should be done before it began. We told her to forget about the twins [Miller Place’s top two, Talia and Tiana Guevara, the eventual winner and runner-up], but that she had to beat the third Miller Place girl [Laura Nolan, an eighth grader], which she did. She’d beaten the John Glenn girl [Sarah Hardie, who finished fourth] before, but Dana said she ran a strong race.”
The third-place finisher was Bayport-Blue Point’s Katie Saroka. Bayport-Blue Point was the team winner, with Miller Place second. East Hampton, which had been seeded ninth among the 12 entries, wound up seventh, a result that pleased O’Donnell, who has coached girls cross-country here since the fall of 1992, taking over from Kevin Corliss, who had overseen East Hampton’s first girls team in 1991.
“It wasn’t just Dana — everybody on our team, except for Ashley and Brittany Rivkind, who each had to pull out, ran a p.r.,” said O’Donnell. “Jennie DiSunno was our second runner [and 28th over all] in 21:49, a p.r. by 50 seconds; Jackie Messemer [a freshman like Cebulski] was our third finisher, in 23:05; Emma Newburger was our fourth, in 23:10, and then came Jamisine Staubitser, who was subbing for Carrie Kaestner, in 23:17, a p.r. by two minutes! . . . Every single girl there ran a race she could be proud of. They were complaining last week that they were the only team out there practicing, but now they’re saying they had a great season and they’re sorry it’s over.”
The boys team, whose lead runner was Dana’s older brother, Adam (in 18:44), also did better than expected, placing eighth among the 11 entries, bettering its prerace seeding of 10th.
Adam Cebulski, who placed 26th over all, was followed by Mike Peralta, in 19:12, Thomas Brierley, in 19:25, Mike Hamilton (who was hampered by Achilles’ tendinitis), in 19:35, Deilyn Guzman, in 20:07, and Jack Link, in 20:16.
Dana Cebulski looked to be in some pain herself on crossing the finish line, but quickly recovered, and soon was smiling, surrounded by her brother and his teammates.
She was excited to be going to the state meet (in Verona, N.Y., outside Syracuse, this weekend), Dana said in answer to a question.
Given that she had been one of the Y.M.C.A. Hurricanes’ top swimmers as a 10-year-old, and that she apparently is a very good volleyballer, there was some question as to which sport she’d choose this fall. Her parents, her brother, and Herzog were pushing for cross-country, but, in the end, she said, “I made the decision. I’d been thinking about it for a year. It was the right one.”